Anderson Cooper’s 360 Degree Look at World Events

Photo by Michelle S. Lee '16 | News anchor Anderson Cooper spoke on a variety of topics ranging from his career to his personal life.

Photo by Michelle S. Lee ’16 | News anchor Anderson Cooper spoke on a variety of topics ranging from his career to his personal life.

 

Michelle S. Lee ’16
Photo Editor

On April 14, CNN anchor, author and acclaimed journalist Anderson Cooper graced the stage of John M. Greene Hall as the first guest lecturer in a series of proposed annual lectures by the Student Events Committee.

The lecture was greeted with overwhelming adulation from both Smith students and Northampton locals alike, as Cooper talked with Dean Jane Stangl for an hour-long interview and Q&A panel with the audience. In his lecture, Cooper covered a wide range of topics, starting from his entrance into the journalism industry.

“I took a year off after college and travelled. I made a list of everything I had hoped for in a theoretical job, and TV news had all the things I was interested in. I applied for entry-level jobs in ABC and could not get hired,” Cooper recalled.

“So, I had a friend make a fake press pass for me, borrowed a camera, and started documenting wars,” he laughed. “Amazingly, after three years, ABC found out what I was doing, and hired me as a correspondent. It worked out as a blessing in disguise.”

When asked whether he would recommend this career path, Cooper offered mixed input based on his experiences in the field over recent years.

“The world was different when I started working in 1991. I’ve lost a number of friends in the last few years in Libya and Syria. Even when I started, I was attacked by a mob,” he responded. “It’s not something I likely recommend because the world really has become a lot more dangerous for combat reporters.”

“Not to bring the mood down,” he quipped lightheartedly. Not one to fail in the humor department, Cooper entertained audiences with stories of unusual and comical encounters with former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, comedienne Kathy Griffin and even Michael Jackson’s former doctor, Conrad Murray.

“As I was wrapping up the interview [with Dr. Murray], all of a sudden he said, ‘I think it would be best to describe the way I feel in song.’ I was like ‘Be my guest,’” he smiled, as the audience erupted in laughter. “It wasn’t just one chorus, it was an entire song about this little boy who Santa forgot.”

Cooper’s jovial attitude and modest composure in these moments struck a familiar chord in his later reflection of the use of such humor as a coping mechanism to overcome mentally difficult situations.

“In the midst of horrible situations, you find yourself using humor, sometimes in very inappropriate ways. But it’s a way of dealing with what you’re seeing,” he explained. “I don’t know anyone who has spent a fair amount of time [in the industry] and doesn’t repeatedly go back to situations of horror without using some sense of humor to get through it.”

Having undergone his own share of tragedy early in his life, following the death of his father at age 10, as well as the suicide of his brother during his senior year of college, Cooper was well versed in the language of loss.

“It shapes who you become. In many ways, it made me much more empathetic and interested in loss. I wanted to be around other people who had experienced loss, so I could learn from them,” he said.

“It’s what really drove me to wars. In districts of conflict, people look you in the eye and talk to you about these issues. People here don’t generally discuss death or loss.”

When asked about the most powerful experiences he has undergone, Cooper reflected on his work in Somalia, and the collateral aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

“When I first started in Somalia, I had never seen a child die,” he said. “And certainly the earthquake in Haiti … to be in a place where 250,000 people have been killed, and there’s no government to help the survivors or pick up the dead, that is something that stays with me.”

In both, he stressed the importance of valuing each experience as equally impacting.

“When you come to a place … you need to see it with a fresh pair of eyes. If you’re just comparing body counts, over time you become immune to what you’re seeing,” he emphasized. “It’s important to be moved every time, to not become immune to it because you’re doing a disservice to the people you’re reporting on.”

At the same time, Cooper lamented the almost methodical manner in which journalists sometimes face the difficult situations and stories they cover.

“You’re thinking in a kind of mercenary way … When you find a child who is dying, your job is to document that, and that is a horrible way to think,” he noted poignantly. “You can justify it all you want and say well, by showing this story, people are going to see this, it’s going to raise money and help other children. And all that may be true, but it takes its toll standing by that bedside.”

As Cooper neared the end of his lecture, he welcomed several questions from the audience, one of which pertained to the current role of women in the industry and how it shapes the stories accrued by news agencies.

“In terms of the percentage of women, it’s much better than other forms of diversity – sexuality, people of color, however you define diversity. The majority of my staff and producers I travel with are women .… When trying to talk to a woman in Afghanistan, to have a woman with you will retrieve a story you can’t if you’re with a male,” Cooper reasoned. “The role of women in the newsroom is always an issue that needs to be worked on and improved, but I’m very pleased with the females on my staff.”

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