Anderson Cooper Defines Christians…Or Not

During Holy Week, Anderson Cooper 360 devoted two programs purporting to define “What Is a Christian?” – but the series turned out to be a backhanded swipe at Christianity.

Cooper addressed topics apparently chosen to refute Christian faith or draw attention to controversies, not to understand what billions of people believe and why they believe it. 

The April 4 program, “God, Faith, and Hard Science,” discussed creationism, attempted to disprove Biblical miracles, and inquired into the power of prayer.  A segment on global warming didn't really fit in with the others and apparently was included just to slam conservative Christian leaders.  To his credit, Cooper did interview a leading scientist whose Christian faith was inspired by his scientific discoveries.

On April 5, the “Sex and Salvation” show pooh-poohed the efforts of Christian ministries to help people struggling with homosexual behavior, but was more sympathetic to efforts to help pornography addicts.  The program's segment on abstinence spent more time with cameras lingering on scantily clad coeds than actually talking about abstinence.  What this has to do with explaining Christianity is anybody's guess. 

Both creationists and evolutionists were represented in the discussion of creationism, though Cooper couldn't resist indulging in a tangential exploration of dinosaurs living in the Garden of Eden. 

The science segment took an upward turn with an interview of Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, a scientist who found his faith through scientific evidence.  Collins contended that humans have “something written within our hearts, universally in humankind, making us different from other species, and calling us to be good and holy, pointing us as a signpost, if you will, towards something outside ourselves that is much more good and much more holy than we can imagine.” 

Christianity also came off well in the segment on the power of prayer.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent, acknowledged that cardiologists are investigating seriously whether prayer speeds healing. 

However, Cooper began the global warming segment with “Have you heard the term 'creation care?'  Some top evangelicals committing themselves to protecting the planet.  But there's a backlash underway and one of the most well-known Christian leaders is casting environmentalism as a false gospel.” 

Sure enough, Cooper showed clips of Rev. Jerry Falwell saying “That's what it's all about, politics.  The fact is, it's all phony-baloney” and “It is Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus.”

In contrast, Cooper sympathetically portrayed a “creation care” proponent, Rev. Joel Hunter.  Cooper quoted Hunter, who recently declined the presidency of the Christian Coalition, saying “I want you to look at the sky differently and every plant and every tree.  God made them for you.  Take care of them.” 

Rather than seeking to understand Christian beliefs, CNN seemed to be telling Christians they should be more concerned about the environment than about human needs, physical or spiritual.


Anderson Cooper 360's treatment of Biblical miracles focused on the parting of the Red Sea and Jesus walking on water.  CNN's newsflash: these events had nothing to do with God. 

According to CNN correspondent Tom Foreman, “Researchers with the American Meteorological Society say indeed, intense wind or an earthquake could cause shallow water in that region to recede dramatically and then rush back in, just like the Bible says.” 

And Jesus walking on water?  Foreman: “Although the Sea of Galilee is not known to freeze, they say once a century or so, patches of ice appear, and maybe Jesus strolled on these.”

To be fair, Foreman admits, “Showing how something might be done does not prove it was done that way.” 

The second program in Anderson Cooper 360's “What Is a Christian?” series, “Sex and Salvation,” gave little more than lip service to evangelical efforts to promote abstinence.

The show focused on “Beach Reach,” a ministry in which Christian young adults head to the Gulf Coast of Florida to bring a message of abstinence to students on spring break.  CNN gave short shrift to the message, preferring titillating shots of co-eds in skimpy bathing suits and couples grinding against each other on the dance floor.  

CNN aired this exchange between two young men about the temptations of spring break:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1: All's you got to do is take that camera and you walk down that beach where those stages are…

            UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1: …you see all those girls, whose daddies would be so proud.


UNIDENTIFED MALE #2: If they keep throwing it in your face, and eventually, you're going to take the bait.

            UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1: It's true.

UNIDENTIFED MALE #2: Yes, I mean, that toughest fish in the sea, you keep dangling that – you keep dangling that squid right in front of his face, he is going to go.  He is going to get it. And that's what we do.  We go get it.


Charming, but wouldn't it make more sense to actually discuss abstinence during a segment on abstinence?  Or, at the very least, to interview someone who promotes the principle?  The abstinence segment did little to answer the question, “What Is a Christian?”

Neither did the segment on homosexuality, which quickly deteriorated into an attack on ministries that help people leave the homosexual lifestyle.  Cooper showed clips from Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conference, interspersed with an interview of a family attending the conference to help their teenaged son, who suffers with same-sex attraction.  The son told CNN reporters he didn't believe the conference would help him.

Short clips from the conference featured Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president and principal research investigator of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.  Nicolosi told the conference audience that, “homosexuality, as we said, is a gender-identity problem.” He further explained that, “the guy with a homosexual problem does not trust men.  When he begins to trust men his homosexuality disappears.” 

Nicolosi later walked away from an interview when the reporter confused his own words.

TUCHMAN: So, there are some stereotypes you talk about, how, you know, if a child's effeminate, if he's creative, he's artistic, those are things to look our for.  Is that fair to say?

NICOLOSI: Good-bye.  You're confusing effeminacy with artistic.  I didn't say artistic. 

After the interview ended, CNN pointed out that the word artistic appears in the Love Won Out Literature. 

Anderson Cooper 360 devoted just thirty-nine seconds to a man who has successfully left the homosexual lifestyle, Alan Chambers, president of the largest ex-gay organization, Exodus.  Three minutes and thirty-one seconds were devoted to Shawn O'Donnell, who claimed ex-gay therapy did not help him. 

Finally, the show interviewed Dr. Clinton Anderson of the American Psychological Association, who asserted that “Homosexuality is not a mental disorder, and does not in any sense need to be treated or need to be cured.”

Bottom line: the segment was a thinly veiled attempt to discredit therapy for those who struggle with homosexuality. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.