Anderson Cooper, anchor of CNN’ top-rated show “Anderson Cooper 360” spoke to a sold-out crowd at Macky Auditorium about his experience as a journalist and how the field has changed over time.
Cooper came to CU on Tuesday through the Distinguished Speakers Board, a program that brings a variety of speakers to campus with student fees. The packed auditorium met the journalist with applause and laughter throughout his talk.
“Let’s see how you feel when I leave,” he quipped after being introduced to heavy applause.
Cooper began with a rundown of the week’s news and said that of everything he has reported on, the Trump era feels different. Unlike many reporters covering the chaotic White House, though, he doesn’t think the situation is uniquely bad.
He said that when he graduated from college in 1989, he had no idea what he wanted to do. He studied political science with a focus on communism, and after the Berlin wall fell during his senior year he felt adrift. He found a calling in journalism but faced challenges breaking into the difficult field.
He ended up working as a fact-checker for an educational channel, then quit to be a freelancer in the war zones of Myanmar, Vietnam and Somalia. Witnessing the death and suffering of war taught him the importance of journalism.
“You expect to find darkness, but you can also find light,” Cooper said of conflict zones. He said that being able to “bear witness” to people’s lives and struggles gave him a sense of purpose and made him want to continue in the field.
The suffering he witnessed in conflict zones was not new to Cooper, surviving family tragedy at a young age. Cooper’s father died when he was 10 and his brother committed suicide during Cooper’s senior year of college. He said his main goal as a reporter is to help people, shining a light not on the rich and famous but on the people whose stories would otherwise not be heard.
Following his lecture, Cooper answered the public’s questions for about an hour. Cooper first answered questions pre-recorded from “exceptional students” at CU, and then answered questions the DSB had chosen from audience submissions on social media.
To one student’s question about how broadcast news has changed over time, Cooper said that anchors now better reflect the diversity of the country, which was not the case when he entered the field.
To DACA student Gaby Solano’s question about what the American dream meant to him, Cooper said that he admires the U.S.’s capacity for correcting past injustices, and wants a future where no one is denied opportunities because of who they are.
He used his personal experience of being gay as an example, saying that when he was young he couldn’t get married or pursue certain careers interests (like the military or government service) because he was gay. He also said he considers being gay one of the “greatest blessings” of his life, because it allows him to better understand the perspectives of people who are marginalized.
Cooper shared that he struggles with the divide between his emotions as a person and his responsibilities as a reporter, saying that after witnessing so many atrocities it’s easy to become desensitized to violence. However, it’s also not his role to project his own emotions onto a situation.
“It’s not my job to add to the sadness of others, it’s my job to document it,” Cooper said.
One question from social media asked for Cooper’s opinion on colleges bringing controversial speakers to campus—a relevant topic to CU since the student group Turning Point USA is bringing controversial conservative commentator Ann Coulter to campus on March 21.
Cooper said he believes a diversity of opinion is important, but that there is a “slippery slope” when deciding what kind of platform to give people on the far right. For instance, he said he would not bring a neo-Nazi group onto his show unless he thought there was a very legitimate reason for them to be there, as he would not want to give them free advertising for potential members.
“I’m not interested in promotion, I want to have an actual conversation,” he said.
He ended his talk by encouraging potential journalists to work hard and said that they have to be passionate about the business. He said even after 27 years as a reporter, he still loves his job and rarely takes vacations.
“You can work harder than anybody else if it doesn’t feel like work,” Cooper said. “And to this day what I do doesn’t feel like work.”
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Carina Julig at firstname.lastname@example.org.