Cooper dishes on family, journalism and fake news
By ELIZABETH WHITE
“The answer to being called fake news is journalism,” Anderson Cooper said on Saturday, Sept. 16 in a speech at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. “The answer to being called the enemy of the people is more journalism. The answer to being ridiculed and being called the ‘failing New York Times’ is even more journalism.”
Cooper, an American journalist who is the main anchor on the CNN show “Anderson Cooper 360,” warmed up to the crowd quickly, showing o a great sense of humor. Cooper has worked in more than 40 countries and has won 13 Emmys for his work.
He spoke about his upbringing, with some jokes about growing up with his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, most famously known for being a fashion designer in the 1970s.
“I had never really asked for advice from my mom growing up, because she wasn’t really parental in that way,” Cooper said. “The only time as a kid that I could remember asking my mom for advice was when I was going for my first job interview when I was in high school. She literally thought about it for two days and she finally came back and said ‘wear vertical stripes because they’re slimming.’”
Cooper also relayed some actual advice his mother had given him, which was to follow your bliss. He explained that even this seemingly genuine advice she had stolen from Joseph Campbell.
“The most important life advice that she ever gave me she copied from television,” Cooper said.
Cooper also talked briefly about the death of his father when he was 10 years old, and his brother committing suicide when he was in his 20’s.
“What I think motivated me in those early years was to seek out conflict and report on suffering of people because in my own way I was suffering,” Cooper said. “I wasn’t sure how I would survive.”
Cooper left high school early in his senior year to go to Africa for five months.
“Africa really opened my eyes and quickened my pulse,” Cooper said. “That trip made me realize that I wanted travel to be a big part of my future life.”
Like many young adults, Cooper did not know what he wanted to do with his life once he graduated from Yale. He was interested in news and television, particularly the experiences of Vietnam War correspondents.
Cooper explained that he applied for entry level jobs at major news corporations to no avail. He finally got a job as a fact checker for a 12-minute daily news cast that was broadcast in about half of the middle schools and high schools in the country. This was the foot in the door that Cooper needed.
“After about six months I realized what I really wanted to do was be out in the eld, but no one would give me a chance,” Cooper said. “I figured if no one was really going to give me a chance, I was going to have to take a chance.”
Armed with a fake press pass and borrowed video camera, Cooper traveled to southeast Asia, where he crossed illegally into Burma and met some students who were fighting the Burmese government. It was his first conflict zone.
“It was in that moment that I realized that this may be something I can do,” Cooper said.
A hush grew over the audience as Cooper talked about instances of horror and grief from his travels that had stuck with him.
“Over the years I’ve seen more horror and hate than I can remember,” Cooper said. “But I’ve also found myself constantly surprised when I find that, in the far reaches of our planet, the truths that are revealed in the dwindling light of day, when everything else is stripped away. In war and disasters you expect to find darkness, but you also find light.”
Cooper talked of his internal struggle of wanting to help these people, but being unable to.
“I knew I couldn’t stop the starvation, knew I couldn’t save people’s lives, but I did try to bear witness to their struggles to tell their story,” Cooper said.
Cooper was asked about the treatment of the media by the Trump administration and how he feels about it as a journalist on CNN, dubbed the “Clinton News Network” by some Republicans.
“As somebody who considers themselves patriotic, who for 25 years has put themselves in harm’s way to tell people’s stories, to be referred to in general as the enemy of the people is personally hurtful, it’s upsetting and it’s obviously false,” Cooper said.
But he knows Trump’s strategy and why the current administration is attacking the media.
“It’s about riling up and appealing to the base,” he said. “It’s about appealing to other people, and there’s a strategy behind it.”
Cooper offered some advice to those pursuing journalism and reporting truth in a turbulent time of fake news and unreliable media.
“I think the key is just don’t complain about it, don’t whine about it, put your head down and just move forward and do journalism,” Cooper said.