Anderson Cooper speaks to Elon community about experiences, current state of the media

by Laura Smith, April 7, 2009

The Pendulum

Photo by Angie Lovelace

Photo by Angie Lovelace

In what has proven to be a difficult week for Elon University in the wake of three deaths among its immediate and extended community, the visit of news anchor Anderson Cooper shed some light on the significance of humanity and the importance of life.

Cooper’s lecture Tuesday in Alumni Gym, “A 360° Look at World Events,” highlighted the state of reporting news in America, as well as Cooper’s own experiences he has had from doing so, in the past 15 years.

After being told by his mother to “follow his bliss” after graduating from Yale in 1989, Cooper began work in journalism fact checking for Channel One, a 12-minute news program aired in U.S. high schools. After creating a fake press pass to move overseas and cover stories when he was denied a job with ABC, Cooper found his bliss in Burma, working with students fighting the government.

He found his true passion in war reporting.

“In Somalia, I knew I found my calling,” Cooper said. “I could bear witness to their struggles.”

Cooper explained to the audience that war reporting is both harrowing and inspirational. 

“Many chambers of the human heart are open to see,” Cooper said. ” In war, you expect to find darkness, but you find light as well; you expect to find hatred, but you find humanity.”

He spoke of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the current turmoil in the Democratic Republic of Congo, witnessing gang rapes and brutality towards women.

“These women have had their bodies destroyed but their souls stay intact,” he said.

Cooper has also covered the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said it is not the media’s role to help the governments.

“It doesn’t seem like we have the luxury of deciding what (country) is more important,” he said.

Cooper said while his passion is war reporting, he has had to focus on other stories to stay sane and not become immune or unmoved from the brutality he has seen.

“It is overwhelming, but you remember you are there for a purpose,” he said in a question and answer session Tuesday. “You’re there to tell a story…I don’t pretend what I do makes a huge difference. I think for me the value is bearing witness to what is going on.”

Telling the story is something Cooper stressed to the audience has changed significantly in today’s society of participatory journalism and technological advances.

“We’re at a strange time for news,” Cooper said. “In this instant age of communication, it’s important to know where your news is coming from.”

In the question and answer session, Cooper said, “Things are changing so rapidly and no one really knows where news is going…there is increasing polarization of the way news is presented. There shouldn’t necessarily be a liberal or conservative view. You shouldn’t have anchors tell you how to think.”

He continued, “These days people expect their news to have a slant. As a newscaster, I believe in fact, not opinion.”

Cooper concluded with his speech with his thoughts on the coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

“So much of what happened there threatens to be forgotten,” he said.

Cooper said he tries to visit New Orleans at least once a month to keep the story alive.

“The government failed in the wake of Katrina, but individuals did not,” he said. “That’s what gives me hope.” 

Cooper said despite the malice and violence he has witnessed, the good efforts of humanity never cease to impress him. 

“The one thing I’ve learned is that what separates us from life and death…is as thin as the human heart,” he said.

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