By:
November 20, 2023

Over the course of his three-decade career, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper has reported from more than 40 countries, documenting nearly every major world news event. Many of them have been tragedies.

Sometimes Cooper has had to insist on showing audiences footage that captures the pain of the people ensnared by those tragedies: ֱPeople who are suffering want you to know ֱ the world to know ֱ about what they are going through.ֱ

ֱEverybody in this room wants to be seen and heard and felt,ֱ Cooper told a crowd of more than 700 at ֱֱs annual fundraising gala Saturday. ֱEverybody wants that, all around the world. You donֱt want to die in silence. You donֱt want to have your child die in silence. So people want you to see whatֱs happening, and I want people to see whatֱs happening.ֱ

Cooper received the ֱ Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at the gala, which was held in Tampa. The award honors journalists whose work has made a significant impact on democracy and its institutions. Past recipients include Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Lesley Stahl and Chris Wallace.

ֱA fraction of Anderson Cooperֱs accomplishments would earn him tonightֱs honor,ֱ ֱ president Neil Brown said before presenting Cooper with the medal. ֱBut what really matters are the stories. The stories of children who found their parents drowned in Hurricane Katrina. The stories of helpless children victimized by earthquakes in Haiti.ֱ

Cooper, who anchors two shows on CNN and serves as a correspondent for ֱ60 Minutes,ֱ shared some of the stories behind those stories.

ֱ president Neil Brown presents Anderson Cooper with the ֱ Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. (Alex Smyntyna/ֱ)

He recalled being on vacation in Croatia with talk show host Andy Cohen when his executive producer told him that he should head back because Katrina was coming. After Cooper told Cohen and his friends that he had to leave, Cohen said to him, ֱAre you kidding? Itֱs a storm. How bad can it be?ֱ

ֱMoral of the story is do not take news advice from Andy Cohen,ֱ Cooper quipped.

Cooper headed to Baton Rouge and followed the hurricane to Mississippi. While getting supplies at a Walmart, a cashier advised him to go to Waveland, Mississippi. There, Cooper found a city devastated. Thatֱs also where he interrupted former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) while ֱ a moment The New York Times in Katrina coverage.

He then headed to New Orleans and spent the next several weeks reporting from the region: ֱIt was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.ֱ

Cooper also recalled his recent coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, including his , who was kidnapped by Hamas while attending the Reֱim music festival on Oct. 7. Cooper was struck by footage he had seen of Goldberg-Polinֱs abduction.

ֱI was so stunned by the composure that he had ֱ to step into the vehicle by himself while cradling his blown-off left arm,ֱ Cooper said. ֱI didnֱt use the video in the story I shot because I thought to myself, ֱThis video has never been seen by anybody.ֱ I donֱt want to air it because his parents might watch, and I donֱt want them to see him like that if they donֱt know.ֱ

Later, while interviewing two parents whose son had been kidnapped, Cooper realized the video he had seen was of their son, Goldberg-Polin. Not wanting to break the news to them on live television, Cooper waited until the interview was over to call them and tell them about the video.

Earlier in the gala, Cooper spoke about how his experience dealing with the media coverage of his brotherֱs suicide when Cooper was 21 later affected his approach to his own reporting.

ֱI did not like that feeling of having a camera shoved into my face in a very awful moment,ֱ Cooper said. ֱAnd thatֱs something I always think about on any story Iֱm on. I never want to be in a situation where I am intruding into somebodyֱs life.ֱ He said that is why he does not name the shooter when he covers mass shootings. He would rather history remember the victims.

Before his most recent three-week stint in Israel, Cooper spent considerable time in the region on reporting trips, including six weeks during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. The Oct. 7 attack was an ֱextraordinary, horrific, horrific event, the likes of which Israel has not seen.ֱ

Cooper also said the documentation of brutality during the current war has been ֱunprecedented,ֱ due to the use of technology. He pointed to Hamasֱ livestreaming of attacks using hostagesֱ social media accounts and noted the role technology has played in other recent tragedies, such as the Christchurch mosque shootings, which were also livestreamed.

In an interview with ֱ, Cooper said that adapting to changes in technology is one of the biggest challenges journalists face today. There is an increasing amount of information available, some of it misinformation or lacking context. He added that people sometimes post short clips of his hourlong broadcast online, losing necessary context.

ֱThat will become the narrative about what I was saying on that broadcast when in fact, itֱs not just that snippet ֱ there were actually other things around it. But that (snippet) takes on a life of its own,ֱ Cooper said. ֱResponding and changing with the change in technology, I think, is critical.ֱ

Anderson Cooper signs a person’s hand at the 2023 Bowtie Ball, which had a record-setting 710 guests in attendance. (Alex Smyntyna/ֱ)

Later this month, the second season of Cooperֱs podcast on grief, ֱAll There Is,ֱ will premiere. When Cooper was 10, his father died of a heart attack, and his mother died in 2019. Cooper said at the gala that the only thing that has helped him deal with his losses is hearing from other people who have learned to live with grief.

President Joe Biden will be a guest on the new season. Biden, who has lost his first wife and two of his children, ֱspeaks the language of loss,ֱ Cooper said.

ֱItֱs rare to hear people in public life talk about their losses and talk about the grief and the sadness that they have,ֱ Cooper said. ֱItֱs very rare for a politician to do that. I donֱt know of any other president in history whoֱs done it to the extent that he has.ֱ

Cooper shared that he has learned ֱtremendous amountsֱ from the people he meets through his reporting. They move him, and he constantly thinks about how he can be a better interviewer and journalist.

ֱOne of the great privileges of being a journalist, being a reporter, is that youֱre able to step into somebodyֱs life ֱ often in the worst moment of their life,ֱ Cooper said. ֱIf you do it responsibly and they invite you in, itֱs an extraordinary thing to kind of touch somebody elseֱs pain and have them tell you their story.ֱ

ֱTo be able to have them trust you enough to make (their story) into something that other people will see ֱ  I think thereֱs great power in that.ֱ

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Angela Fu is a reporter for ֱ. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu

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