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The Egypt revolt: Why are we so shocked by journalists getting beaten up?

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Murrow-Cooper

Image Credit: Getty ImagesThere’s a long history of reporters putting themselves in danger to cover a story. Edward R. Murrow broadcast his famous World War II radio shows from the rooftops of London during Nazi air raids. More recently, NBC anchor David Bloom died in 2003 while riding inside a cramped US tank during the Iraq War — from deep vein thrombosis, but still. In fact, last year, 79 reporters from around the world were killed while covering stories in places from Chechnya to the Philippines, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. So why is this week’s attack on Anderson Cooper in Egypt (captured on flip-cam video), along with several other altercations between reporters and pro-Mubarak protesters (one Fox News camera crew got beaten so badly they ended up in the hospital) creating such a stir back here at home? Why are we all so surprised, considering this sort of thing happens all the time all over the world, albeit generally to journalists with less famous hair? 

In part, I think, it’s the nature of the event. It’s not often the entire American anchor corp from virtually every news outlet find themselves converging on a single city square in the midst of unrestrained anarchy. The unrest in Iran last year was close, although Western journalists had a harder time getting into that country. The Tiananmen Square protests in China in 1989 were similar as well, although the Chinese government simply ejected Western reporters or turned off their satellite feeds when things got too hot. This time, in Cairo, journalists are dealing with mob rule, an even more dangerous environment in which to be pointing cameras at people.

But there’s another reason these anchor attacks seem so shocking to viewers back home. These days, in our personality-driven cable-news world, anchors are as much TV entertainers as they are newspeople. Audiences relate to Anderson Cooper — for one example — in an entirely different psycho-media context than they did foreign correspondents in the past. Sure, we’ve seen Cooper wading in flood waters and consoling widows in Sri Lanka, but we’ve also seen him cuddling with chimpanzees and cracking jokes with Kathy Griffin on New Year’s Eve. Watching Cooper being beaten by an angry mob was a chilling reminder that real journalism can sometimes be a very dangerous business.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Has watching the coverage of Egypt changed your mind about any of your favorite cable-TV personalities? Has it made you respect journalists any more or less?