Anderson and Angelina

Posted: Jun 22, 2006 12:01 AM

CNN hit a new low in smarmy as it hyped a "special edition" of "Anderson Cooper 360" Tuesday night: "Angelina Jolie: Her Mission and Motherhood," featuring Cooper's big scoop, the "first interview" with Angelina Jolie since she had her baby.

Start with Cooper, the glam, my-precious-feelings correspondent whose ascent to cable TV news stardom steamrolled over avuncular veteran newsman Aaron Brown and depressed the news slot's ratings for months. Add Jolie, the tattooed ex-wife of Tinsel town bad boy Billy Bob Thornton, fresh from Namibia, where she had a baby with a trendy Hollywood name -- Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt -- sired by a movie star who just last year was someone else's husband. And here's an eye-roller: They're Talking About Poverty in the Third World.

It promised to be a package of everything annoying about celebrity culture -- the rich and statuesque preening as they bemoan the plight of the destitute and forsaken.

Not so. As a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency, Jolie, 31, is doing important work as she spreads the word about people who have nothing. They don't have homes. They don't have food. They don't have the medicine they need. The children don't have parents who can care for them. The parents have lost children to hunger or disease. They all lack a home country that can protect them.

Jolie was first exposed to the refugee issue at an amputee camp in Sierra Leone. "The child I met in Sierra Leone was the first child that I ever met who was about to die and who died the next day," she explained. It was heartbreaking to see a child "in that state" and "all by himself." The experience transformed her.

Was the interview silly? Sure, especially when Cooper wanted to know if childbirth was different than adoption. Duh. Still, Jolie seems to understand that she has to offer up nuggets on life with Brad Pitt in exchange for airtime discussing the sad plight of the world's refugees.

On the refugee situation, she was savvy and compassionate. Speaking on refugees from Rwanda, she noted: "They really are the most vulnerable people in the world. They really don't have an option for -- it's not just that they're poor. It's not just that they're hungry. It's not just that -- it's that they are in fear of -- of -- for their lives. They are going to be persecuted for their race, their religion, their nationality."

Jolie is one of many celebrities to focus on Sudan's Darfur region, "where the slaughter of Africans by Muslim militias -- the Janjaweed, they're called -- has created one of the worst refugee catastrophes on the planet today. And it's happening right now."

Last year, when Jolie adopted an AIDS orphan, a little girl whom she named Zahara, she did not know whether the child was HIV positive. (Later, Jolie was glad to learn the girl does not have HIV.) She noted, "The upsetting thing was that I was sat down and it was explained to me that -- that, don't worry, because, in this country, it's not a death sentence." So the actress is working to spare children in countries where it is a death sentence.

I like Jolie's message of hope. Celebrity interviews often emit a vampire-like quality, as breathless interviewers feed on stars' personal tragedies and setbacks and the celebrity-victim comes across as the latest pouty facelift with a story that says, "Poor me."

For Jolie, the focus is on the truly poor, and the many things Americans can do for them if they open their wallets. She sees the suffering, but also she sees the resilience of people who have endured unspeakable loss -- yet it is not too late to help them.

Now, Angelina, think of little girls in this country who see you as a role model. Marry your baby's father.