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Anderson Cooper: 'I Didn't Go to Anchor School'



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In their own words

Anderson Cooper: 'I Didn't Go to Anchor School'
The host of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" describes himself as a nontraditional newscaster: "I've never pretended to be all-knowing, all-seeing. ... Maybe I don't look the way anchors are supposed to look ..."

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 01/03/06


Anderson Cooper, anchor of the CNN weeknight news program "Anderson Cooper 360," had a big year in 2005. The 38-year-old television journalist literally traveled the world to cover many of the year's top news stories, such as the tsunami in Southeast Asia.

During his reporting on Hurricane Katrina, Cooper famously interrupted his interview with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who was in the middle of praising the government response to the disaster. Cooper told her: "For the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. ... I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are upset, and very angry, and very frustrated. ..."

In the wake of his buzzed-about reporting throughout the year, Cooper's CNN news program was expanded to two hours and he quickly became regarded as the news network's hot new star. At the end of 2005, the silver-maned son of socialite designer Gloria Vanderbilt and onetime host of the ABC reality show "The Mole" was named the Media Person of the Year in the annual online poll by I Want Media.



I Want Media: You were voted Media Person of the Year. Do you believe you made an impact in 2005?

Anderson Cooper: I'm not really conscious of myself in that sense. I'm doing what I've been doing for the last 15 years. 2005 was a very eventful year, and I certainly went to a lot of places where things were happening. I'll leave it to other people to judge.

IWM: What were the big events of 2005?

Cooper: It started off with the tsunami. I literally went from the ball drop on New Year's Eve in Times Square to Sri Lanka. And certainly Indonesia was a very humbling story to be on. I was there in early August reporting on starvation, particularly among children. From there I went to Hurricane Katrina. To me, Katrina still feels like the most important story going on right now. It continues to be a disaster. It's something we're following every day.

IWM: Your "emotional" reporting during your early coverage of Katrina reportedly helped lead to a heightened role for you at CNN. Do you believe reporters should inject more "emotion" into their reporting?

Cooper: I don't know what that means. I think you should be yourself and be honest. Pretending to be outraged or emotional is silly. I don't think the lesson of Katrina is that reporters should start inserting themselves into stories. That sounds very artificial to me.

As a viewer, I don't care about what some blow-dried anchor thinks about a political position. That doesn't interest me. It's not something I'd watch.

IWM: Fans favorably compare you to Jon Stewart, the host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. Do you consider the comparison to be a compliment?

Cooper: Sure. Jon Stewart's very cool and very funny. A lot of what he does is very smart. He doesn't actually cover news -- as he often says -- but I'm certainly a fan.

IWM: Do you have any qualms about being compared to a comedian?

Cooper: I haven't heard those comparisons myself, so I'm guessing that what they're based on is the idea of a nontraditional anchor. And that comparison I'll certainly take.

I never really set out to be an anchor. I didn't go to anchor school. I probably don't speak like a lot of anchors speak. Maybe I don't look the way anchors are supposed to look ...

IWM: How are anchors supposed to look?

Cooper: I'm not sure, really. I'm not trying to be something that I'm not. I'm just trying to be myself and talk about what I know, and admit what I don't know.

IWM: You're a popular news personality. Why do viewers find you appealing?

Cooper: [pause] If I were a more traditional news anchor I would have an answer to that question. As a viewer, I like to watch people who I believe are real and are being honest. I've never pretended to be something that I wasn't. I've never pretended to be an all-knowing, all-seeing anchor. I just don't buy that as a viewer.

IWM: You're a contributing editor for Details magazine. What do you write about?

Cooper: I write a mix of stuff. Some of it is serious. I've written behind-the-scenes looks at covering Katrina and the tsunami, about reporting in Iraq. I've written about my brother's suicide and the impact it had on my early reporting.

And I've written about what it's like to read a book that your mom wrote about her sex life.

IWM: That doesn't sound like something a traditional news anchor would do.

Cooper: [laughter] That's probably on the list of things they tell you in anchor school to avoid.

IWM: Why write for Details?

Cooper: Frankly, no one else had approached me. I always wanted to write for a magazine. And the editor, Dan Peres, is really smart. They've got a great roster of writers -- Augusten Burroughs, Anthony Swafford, Carrie Fisher. They've got an edge to them. I don't read many magazines anymore. Details is one of the few that I read.

IWM: CNN president Jon Klein suggested recently that there won't be news anchors within five years. People will type keywords into their handheld devices and up will pop the news they want. Are you concerned?

Cooper: [laughter] I'm not concerned, no. Look, television is changing. I don't think five years ago anyone could have predicted where things would be right now. So I have no idea where things are going to be five years from now. There are enough things in the world that keep me up at night. That's certainly not one of them.

IWM: What keeps you up at night?

Cooper: I knew you were going to ask that. Oh, I don't know. Life, I guess.

IWM: What are the qualities of a good news anchor?

Cooper: Again, I think honesty is the most important. And being willing to go and see for yourself these amazing, sometimes terrible times that we're living in. One of the things I learned from Peter Jennings early on when I was at ABC was there's really something to be said for going to these stories. Peter used to go to Sarajevo all the time. You really learn things when you go and see it for yourself. It's completely different from sitting in a studio.

It's important to be passionate about news, and to figure out ways to take viewers on that trip that you take. There's this notion that viewers don't care about international stories. I don't think that's true. People care about any story that's well told and interesting. A good news anchor is someone who lives and breathes news. I think that passion comes across on the screen.

IWM: Would Katie Couric be a good choice to take over as anchor of the "CBS Evening News"?

Cooper: She's a remarkable talent. I think she can do anything she wanted to in this business. And out of this business, frankly.

IWM: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Cooper: Being downloaded on a handheld device maybe? Hopefully?

I've had an amazing experience with CNN, and hope to continue having amazing experiences with CNN for a long time. There's a real desire here to have people who are out every day finding stories and telling stories -- not just talking about the news.

IWM: Are you referring to Fox News, MSNBC?

Cooper: I'm just saying in general that there are a lot of programs that just talk about the news. It's an expensive, time-consuming proposition to actually have bureaus and be able to respond to stories. CNN proves over and over again that it values news and reporting facts.

IWM: What's in your news diet? Where do you get your news every morning?

Cooper: I get several newspapers delivered to my apartment. I get the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York Post, New York Daily News, L.A. Times. I think it's important to get a cross-section of analysis and perspective, and see what stories are playing in different regions. I try to get the Dallas Morning News, or read it online, the Chicago Tribune ...

IWM: Do you go online for news?

Cooper: Throughout the day I check Web sites and stuff. But I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with it. There are a bunch of blog sites from a variety of political backgrounds that I'll read just to see what people are talking about. Like Daily Kos, AndrewSullivan.com.

I think it's a good thing that there are bloggers out there watching very closely and holding people accountable. Everyone in the news should be able to hold up to that kind of scrutiny. I'm for as much transparency in the newsgathering process as possible.

IWM: Your hair turned gray at an early age. Have you ever thought about dyeing your hair?

Cooper: I thought about it for about 30 minutes. I asked the guy who was cutting my hair one time what it would take. I have a big enough ego that I was considering doing it, but not so big that I was willing to sit for two hours in a salon reading old copies of Rosie magazine with tin foil in my hair.

IWM: I guess it's too late now.

Cooper: Yes, if I did it now it would be kind of sad and pathetic.



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