After a career of covering despair, Anderson Cooper dwells on hope
Anderson Cooper learned how easy it was for societies to fall during his years reporting on tragedy across the world, but the values needed to prevent chaos are being taught at IU, he said.
“I think the answer is actually right here,” Cooper said. “It’s in the motto of this university: ‘Lux et Veritas.’ Light and truth.”
Cooper, anchor of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” and a correspondent for “60 Minutes,” spoke Sunday evening to a crowded house at the Musical Arts Center about his career in journalism and the importance of recognizing positive changes for the human experience.
His talk, part of the Lou Mervis Distinguished Lecture series, was sponsored by the Union Board, the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center, The Media School and other organizations across campus. It was the concluding event of The Media School’s fall Speaker Series.
After graduating from Yale University in 1989 with a degree in political science, Cooper worked as a fact checker for the youth news organization Channel One. Soon, though, he began working toward a career in storytelling by becoming an international correspondent.
Cooper thought if he began reporting in dangerous situations, he might have less competition, so he had a friend create a fake press pass for him to travel to Myanmar. He reported on students fighting the government and sold his work back to Channel One.
While covering famine and civil war in Somalia, Cooper said he watched a husband and wife prepare for their 5-year-old son’s burial after their three other children had already died. The harrowing scene made him feel more driven to tell the stories of this family and others like them.
“I knew I couldn’t stop the starvation, I couldn’t actually save people’s lives, but I could bear witness to their struggles,” Cooper said. “I could learn their names and tell their stories.”
Cooper’s career is now mostly relegated to covering U.S. politics, which he said comes with its own challenges, such as people losing trust in journalism.
Although he doesn’t take political positions as a journalist, Cooper said people often think he has an agenda for holding President Donald Trump and other politicians accountable, because he continues to challenge their lies.
“After a while, the lies become truth,” Cooper said.
Despite the difficulties Cooper has seen during his time as a journalist, he still believes in hope. He said he’s seen it everywhere, including the war-torn locations he’s reported from.
“You expect to find darkness, but you also find light,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he has watched the world improve throughout his lifetime. Technology increases everyone’s exposure to the worst of humanity, making many believe that everyone is worse off. That view, Cooper said, is largely a misperception.
When IU was founded in 1820, about 94% of the world’s population lived in poverty, a number now down to just 21%, Cooper said. Extreme poverty is also down, while literacy rates have vastly improved.
Humans often dwell on what separates us from one another, but Cooper said it’s more important to look at the kindness in the world and connect over the bonds that bring us together.
“That to me is the light and the truth,” Cooper said, “and I think there’s hope in that.”