Bearing Witness

At the Drew Forum last fall, CNN’s silver-haired anchor Anderson Cooper talked about how emotion fuels his work.

By Maura McDermott

Cooper devoted a full third of his lecture to audience questions. Photo by Karen Mancinelli Paige

As one of the most recognized broadcast journalists today, AC360° host Anderson Cooper has reported from nearly every hotspot on the globe: Somalia, New Orleans after Katrina, Haiti, Congo and, most recently, the BP oil spill in the Gulf. But landing his first job after graduating from Yale took a bit of moxie. In mid-November, he told an audience of about 1,500 in the Simon Forum that when he couldn’t get a job in journalism, he forged a press pass and took a camera into war-torn Burma. But what led him there was even more surprising. The year before he graduated, his older brother committed suicide, prompting the grief-stricken Cooper to seek refuge in “places where the pain outside would match the pain I was feeling inside.”

Reporting from Somalia in the early days of that country’s famine, “I knew I had found my calling,” said Cooper. “I knew I couldn’t stop the starvation and the war, I knew I couldn’t save people’s lives; but I could bear witness to their struggle, and I think there’s value in that.”

The 43-year-old journalist achieved fame for his emotionally charged reports in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He spoke about his fury upon hearing politicians thank each other while bodies lay on the streets. To hide his outrage, he said, would have been “as false as trying to inject too much emotion.”

Gercy Jean Pierre, a first-year student who grew up in Haiti, said he was impressed to hear about the time Cooper was filming a violent melee in that country and saw a young boy struck in the head by a concrete block. Cooper rushed to the boy’s aid. “It really shows that he has a heart,” Jean Pierre said. “Most of the time we just take these things for granted, we’re just living our lives and don’t think about the people around us. He’s trying to help others, to think about the lives that people are living around the world.”

RELATED: More text, plus video coverage of Anderson Cooper’s lecture at Drew.

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