Elegy for Aaron Brown

He was somber, he was corny, but he cared about news before Anderson Cooper made it cool.


Lori Leibovich
November 3, 2005 5:40AM (UTC)

Since my son was born 20 months ago, I've all but stopped going out during the week. But my home confinement hasn't been all bad. In fact, it's meant that I get to spend most of my evenings with two of my favorite men. My husband -- and CNN's Aaron Brown.

Tragically, one of my men has been dumped -- and not by me. According to TV Week Brown, the host of "Newsnight" who rose to prominence after his dogged and emotional reporting on 9/11, will be leaving CNN to "take time with his family." Lucky them -- while we'll be stuck watching Anderson Cooper they'll still have the pleasure of hearing Brown's idiosyncratic dissection of the day's news.

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Whether he was fumbling awkwardly while taking the "hand-off" from his ossified colleague Larry King, or fawning over his guests, or even just contemplatively stroking his chin, Brown managed to create the only news program on television that was so consistently weird.

And that's what made it so much fun to watch. Brown was not another hairsprayed drone -- actually, he has some of the worst hair on TV, if in fact it is even actual hair -- but a real person. Brown was like the nutty but lovable uncle whom you're a little nervous you'll be seated next to at Thanksgiving dinner. Or that nerdy friend from college who would stay up till morning talking about Big Ideas. And there was a comfort and a familiarity in getting your news from someone who isn't afraid to be himself -- even if that self was a little bit earnest and a little bit kooky. And though Brown has been criticized for being somber, I always appreciated the fact that he seemed to really care about and ponder the news. As Stephen Colbert recently told the New Yorker, "No one mulls the news like Aaron Brown."

In what was clearly a last-ditch bid to boost Brown's ratings, CNN recently tinkered with the show. Brown's meandering, flowery opening monologue was replaced by a slick voice-over recitation of the day's top stories. The segments became more lifestyle-y and less political. The Rooster -- the segment I always imagined was Brown's favorite part of the program -- got the ax. (For non-"Newsnight" watchers, this was Brown's end-of-the-hour narration of the headlines from morning papers across the county; I guess it's amazing CNN let him do his shtick for so long.)

In the past few weeks, watching Brown suffer the ultimate humiliation -- having to share his slot with Anderson Cooper -- has felt like seeing your dad, a loyal company man, lose his corner office to the hungry young buck. And it's clearly been excruciating for Brown, too. There was such negative chemistry between the two anchors that the show just lost its pop.

On Halloween night, when I tuned in to "Newsnight" at 10 to find Paula Zahn, dressed in a jack-o'-lantern-orange leather vest, subbing for Brown, I had a chilling premonition that the end was near.


Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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