Virginia Commonwealth University

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CNN Anchor Discusses Life, Work, World

February 26, 2011

By Jillian Quattlebaum
Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Nervous about his first job interview for a position as a restaurant waiter in high school, Anderson Cooper asked his mother for advice.

“She thought about it and she said, ‘Wear vertical stripes because they’re slimming,'” Cooper recalled.

The Emmy-winning anchor for CNN spoke to and took questions from a sold-out audience at the Richmond Forum this weekend, discussing his background, career and world events.

After graduating from Yale University in 1989 with a degree in political science, Cooper, who had studied communism during college, said he did not know what to do.

“When the Berlin Wall fell my senior year, I was completely screwed,” Cooper said.

He said that despite reservations, he asked his mother, New York socialite and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, what he should do.

“She thought about it and she said, ‘Follow your bliss,’” Cooper said.

Cooper said he never set out to be an anchor, but he had always been interested in television news and war correspondents during the Vietnam War.

After a trip to Africa during his last semester of college, he said, he wanted to be a war correspondent or foreign correspondent. He tried and failed to get his foot in the door — so he devised a plan.

“I was thinking that if I went to these places that were really dangerous, I would have less competition because not that many people would want to go,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he got a friend to make him fake press pass. Then he borrowed a video camera and snuck into Burma to meet some student protesters.

From Burma, he traveled to Somalia in 1992 during a famine.

“I may have gone to Yale, but I believe I was really educated in Somalia … and all those other places I traveled those first three years as a foreign correspondent,” Cooper said.

In Somalia, he found his calling.

“I knew that I couldn’t actually stop the starvation. I couldn’t stop the war. I couldn’t save people’s lives,” Cooper said. “But things I could do bear witness to their struggles.”

Later, Cooper said he think good reporters are haunted by the things they see and should take a break when they become desensitized.

“If you’re not willing to be changed yourself – if you’re not willing to have a story keep you up at night – I don’t think you should be out there trying to tell it,” he said.

Cooper added that many things have changed in the world of reporters. He said that reporters have become targets of mob rage and that a reporter’s safety has become a higher priority.

Cooper said he tries to make sure such factors do not affect his work.

“I try never to let fear dictate what I do,” Cooper said.

Even with the evolution in media, Cooper says one thing will stay the same.

Viewers want facts, information – and along with that, I think they’re smart enough to make up their own minds,” Cooper said.

He also discussed the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans. He said the silence was shocking during the first few days after the storm.

“We all know that government failed in the wake of Katrina, but the important thing is the individuals did not,” Cooper said.

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