Television journalist Anderson Cooper visited the Hill yesterday as the speaker for the 11th annual Edward R. Murrow Forum on Issues in Journalism. Former television host and the CEO of Loews Hotels & Resorts Jonathan Tisch (LA ’76) interviewed Cooper before the event was opened to questions from the massive audience that was packed into Cohen Auditorium.
Honoring legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, the forum — presented by the Film and Media Studies (FMS) program, the Edward R. Murrow Center of Public Diplomacy at The Fletcher School and the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service — explores contemporary journalism issues. Past guests include ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, Huffington Post Media Group Co-founder, President and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington and CNN Anchor and Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
Cooper, who is the anchor of CNN’s nightly show “Anderson Cooper 360˚,” has covered major events around the world including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Boston Marathon bombings and Hurricane Katrina. He recently released a book and a documentary about his relationship with his mother, the heiress to the Vanderbilt family.
FMS Program Administrator John Ciampa said that the Murrow Forum typically sees about 400 audience members. The roughly 560 seats for this year’s event, “Edward R. Murrow Forum 360˚: Beyond the Headlines with Anderson Cooper” sold out in under an hour, with overflow seating available in Distler Performance Hall to watch a live stream of the event.
Ciampa explained that Tufts alumnus Neal Shapiro (LA ’80), president and CEO of WNET and former president of NBC News, connected FMS Co-Director Julie Dobrow with Cooper. Each year Dobrow and Shapiro discuss current issues in the journalism landscape and choose a speaker accordingly.
“Anderson was an obvious fit this year, with it being an election year — he’s really front and center for covering it,” Ciampa said.
Before the forum, Cooper sat down for an interview with campus media, where he discussed his path in broadcast journalism and challenges facing the news industry today.
While working as a fact checker at Channel One, a news provider for many middle and high schools throughout the country, Cooper decided to take his career into his own hands and cover wars overseas. He enlisted his friend’s help to make a fake press pass and went into war zones on his own to create segments, which he ultimately was able to sell to Channel One.
“I’m a big believer in out-hustling — and once you get your foot in the door, make yourself indispensable,” he said, noting that he still dedicates most weekends and holidays to his work.
Even now that he has worked his way to the top, Cooper explained that he does not see himself as a celebrity.
“I don’t watch myself, if there’s a billboard in New York that has my picture on it that CNN is advertising, I don’t walk down that street, I don’t take a selfie of it … It always surprised me when politicians talk about themselves in the third person,” Cooper said. “I’m like, ‘How do you get to the point where you actually talk about yourself in the third person?’”
In terms of the broader journalism landscape, Cooper spoke about the importance of knowing where information comes from in order to be aware of potential biases and inaccuracies. He also warned about the dangers of catering to ratings in an age where such information is constantly available.
“I do think it’s a big mistake if you try to follow the numbers, and ultimately it’s like crack — I mean not that I’ve tried crack, but from what I hear — it may feel good initially, but long term you’re going to lose your teeth and you’re going to be all messed up,” Cooper said.
He later signed copies of his new book in the Remis Sculpture Court. Next, University President Anthony Monaco gave the opening remarks at the forum, followed by Dobrow, who introduced Cooper and Tisch. Cooper responded humbly to the audience’s applause, joking, “You’re just happy not to be in class.”
Cooper wove together his signature humor and more serious side, segueing from charming stories about his days on an overnight news show — which he claims only night-shift workers, nursing mothers, drunk people and insomniacs watched — to explaining how the deaths of his father and brother made him want to cover wars and all the tragedies that he has witnessed throughout his career.
“I really wanted to go overseas and be around people who spoke the language of loss, where life and death was very much a real issue,” he said. “I found it in an odd way — I preferred to be far away where life and death were the subject of the everyday than to be back here, where people just didn’t talk about that.”
Cooper explained the importance of reporters letting themselves be affected by the tragedies they cover and noted how difficult this can be to balance with the logistics of reporting.
“You have to go and be willing to be open to what you see, to be changed by it, and I think it should horrify you and it should make you cry at night,” he said.
In response to a question from Tisch about the current presidential election cycle, Cooper said that no one knows what to expect in the coming months but noted that he thinks strong competition tends to produce stronger candidates. Regarding disproportionate media coverage, he shared his firsthand experience that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has routinely declined news media’s interview requests, unlike Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
At the conclusion of the forum, Cooper answered questions from audience members. In response to a student’s question, he explained his frustration with what cameras can capture and said he wishes he could take his audiences on location with him.
After visiting Tufts, Cooper returned to his campaign coverage. He interviewed Ohio Governor John Kasich and his family in a town hall event last night, will be speaking with Donald Trump and his family tonight and will interview Senator Ted Cruz and his wife tomorrow ahead of Thursday’s Democratic debate, which is hosted by CNN.