Anderson Cooper Speaks About the Need to Bear Witness

By Carolyn VanBrocklin

Today at 4 p.m. at Elon University, Anderson Cooper of CNN spoke to students about his experience in world events. He recounted being a foreign correspondent in places such as Somalia.  Cooper told students that people from war-torn countries want to share their story.  As a reporter, Cooper values the importance of “bearing witness to what’s going on” in the world.

Anderson Cooper speaks to those gathered for a press conference.

Anderson Cooper speaks to those gathered for a press conference.

Cooper’s mother always told him “follow your bliss.”

After graduation, Cooper, who had studied political science focusing on the Soviet Union, had no idea what to do.  “When the Berlin Wall fell I was totally screwed,” Cooper said.  Instead, he decided to become a journalist although he had never done it before.

Cooper decided that his interests lay in the field of foreign correspondence, particularly in war zones.  He had to work very hard to get to that point, as the job he worked made him sit at a desk rather than be out in the field.  Cooper finally took matters into his own hands when he and a friend make fake press passes and went to Somalia.

“Since no one gave me a chance, I would have to take a chance,” Cooper said.

His time spent in Africa opened his eyes to the world outside the United States.  “It was the first time I had a gun pointed at me,” Cooper said.

While in Somalia, Cooper saw starvation and poverty up close.  It was here that he learned to bear witness to the struggles of others to survive.

Finding the Light

“In war you expect to find darkness, but you find light as well,” Cooper said.  He constantly found himself surprised by the attitudes of the people who live in war-torn countries.acoop

Later, Cooper traveled to Rwanda when the genocide occurred.  He remembers the stark contrast between the victory of the recent elections and the killing that happened days later.  Cooper called it “personal killing:” neighbors killed neighbors face-to-face with machetes, rather than strangers killed by guns or bombs.

‘Look into the things that scare us the most’

As a full correspondent, Cooper reports on a wide variety of stories.  Despite the dangers, he still goes to conflict zones because of his feeling of duty to bear witness.

When covering the war in Iraq, Cooper realized how differently news correspondents were treated.  In Iraq, reporters can’t be spontaneous; “you find yourself trapped in a security bubble,” he said, protected all the time by bullet-proof vests and convoys of soldiers that can distort reality.

Cooper said that it’s critical as a reporter to go out alone and see the different viewpoints.  “It’s a cost fewer and fewer media people want to pay,” he said.

Cooper said that it can be tempting to look the other way and “ignore the sadness.  But we must look into the things that scare us the most.”

Our nation is increasingly divided in two, Cooper said, and as a result people expect the news to follow the limited view and have a slant.  He said the slant in the news shouldn’t exist, and that there is too much opinion and not enough fact.

It’s important to walk in other people’s shoes and understand their opponent’s ideas, he emphasized.

“It is up to individuals to make a difference…even between life and death,” Cooper said.  “Individuals have to take responsibilities themselves.”

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