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When I ask Cooper what he thinks about being labeled the “emo-anchor,” he says, “As in Emo Philips? Or emo-tive? I hope it’s not Emo Philips.” He can’t resist one more crack. “Let me emote here, if I may.” He laughs. “I didn’t go to anchor school or work in a local station, so I never really learned the patter and the emphasis, the one-word-in-the-sentence kind of cadences. The best thing I can do is just be myself and not pretend to be this hard-bitten reporter. I feel like I’m making it up as I go along. I’m not the best TelePrompTer reader and I say um too much and I stumble and I stutter a lot.”

His non-anchor appeal has exerted a strong pull on some of his viewers. Later that night, as we are leaving the Time Warner Center, a security guard appears to escort Cooper from the lobby to the Town Car waiting just across the sidewalk. Cooper explains that a couple of months before, a woman who had made contact with him in the past grabbed him when he was coming up out of the subway one morning. Then, two nights earlier, another woman turned up. She had sent Cooper a teddy bear dressed in a suit and tie in the colors that he wears on the air: gray and blue. Angry that he didn’t respond, she turned up outside the building to see him. CNN doesn’t want to take any chances, hence the bodyguard.

Becoming famous is clearly a mixed bag for Cooper. “Suddenly, living in New York has never been more like living in Mayberry,” he says. “People at the deli are like, ‘Hey, Andy!’ But the fame element is probably the least compelling thing about this job.” He tells me that he learned how to handle it from watching his mother, who told him never to read anything written about himself if he wants to stay “clear.” He says, “The stuff that a lot of people dream about—becoming famous or whatever—is ultimately not going to lead you to happiness. I am certainly a child of privilege, and I’m well aware of it, but for me the greatest privilege of my childhood was learning that at a very young age.”

When he first came to CNN, Cooper says, “I don’t think they liked me very much, and I don’t think I was very good.” He got sent to Afghanistan without a camera crew. “This is how you get pushed out.”

Obviously, the other downside to his growing fame is that it serves to ratchet up the interest in his personal life, something he has been very careful to keep out of the press. There has been a lot of chatter on the Internet about the fact that Cooper may or may not be gay, and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto has taken pleasure in quoting the gay magazine Metrosource, which has referred to Cooper as “the openly gay news anchor.” It has been assumed in certain circles in New York partly because he lives what looks to some to be a gay social life. He’s often seen at parties with Barry Diller, and he’s friends with the lead singer from the outré gay rock band the Scissor Sisters. And then there was the tempest in a teapot regarding a slightly heated interview last fall with Jerry Falwell about gay marriage. Some Cooper-obsessed bloggers insist that the anchor outed himself on the air, taking the gay side of the debate and saying, “We pay taxes.” They claim CNN originally posted a transcript with the “we” and then later changed it to “You pay taxes.” Cooper has maintained all along that he said “you.”

When I bring up the sexuality issue with Cooper, he says, “You know, I understand why people might be interested. But I just don’t talk about my personal life. It’s a decision I made a long time ago, before I ever even knew anyone would be interested in my personal life. The whole thing about being a reporter is that you’re supposed to be an observer and to be able to adapt with any group you’re in, and I don’t want to do anything that threatens that.”

On Tuesday, August 30, the day that the levees were breached in New Orleans, Cooper suddenly found himself alone in Mississippi, cut off from the mother ship. His producers at CNN couldn’t reach him, nor he them. He couldn’t even get an e-mail on his BlackBerry. He went to fill up the gas tank of his rented SUV and restock his supplies at a Wal-Mart, where he was recognized by a woman who had fled Bay St. Louis, the small coastal casino town near Biloxi. The woman hadn’t heard anything on the news about her hometown, and she pleaded with Cooper to go there. So he started to drive. The water was so high he didn’t think he could make it in his SUV. “We made one of those dicey decisions,” says David Doss, his producer back in New York. “He abandoned the truck he was in and we tried to get him with a truck that was coming from Texas. We had this ‘Where’s Anderson?’ nightmare.”