The host of the award-winning, self-titled CNN news program "Anderson Cooper 360˚" took a break from the teleprompter this Saturday to offer insight on political and world affairs as part of UB's 20th Annual Distinguished Speaker Series.
Cooper joked that he didn't know what to talk about, so he sent UB alumnus Wolf Blitzer an e-mail message asking for ideas. Pulling out his Blackberry, Cooper read Blitzer's response, including "go Bills," "go Sabres," chicken wings, beef on weck and Bocce's pizza. It ended with "avoid all jokes about snow, they're very sensitive."
Then delving into his background and drive as a reporter who has covered atrocities in Somalia, Darfur, Rwanda and Iraq — "propelled to expose the world's dirtiest truths," in his own words — Cooper made a quick transition from punch lines to headlines.
In addition to his overseas reporting, the CNN anchor also spoke on catastrophes faced here in the US, specifically Hurricane Katrina. Politicians called it an unpredictable disaster, but Cooper disagreed, explaining that the constant praise that politicians gave each other in the aftermath was frustrating and difficult to those affected by the devastation.
"Reporting is more important now than ever," he said, citing alleged corruption surrounding New Orleans as a primary reason.
Cooper said that although victims were told that the Civic Center had food, water and medical attention, when people arrived there was no help for them. He then went on to tell the story of a young man who had brought his mother in a wheelchair to the Civic Center, where the 91-year-old woman had "survived the storm, only to die in its aftermath."
While people are appreciative of his coverage on Hurricane Katrina, Cooper said people still stop him in the street and beg him not to let the world forget about New Orleans.
"In many ways it is like a time capsule," he said. "I hope none of us ever forgets what happened there."
Calling out politicians on their response to Hurricane Katrina, Cooper said that even today they still do not accept blame for their mistakes or give answers to the burning questions to which the public needs answers.
"Politicians give responses, not answers," Cooper said.
He then discussed tactics of presidential candidates during elections, joking that every time Kerry said the word "Vietnam," college students took a shot, and each time Bush used the phrase "flip-flop," they put back two. He also, however, emphasized that voter apathy is a serious issue.
"Voting is the key," he said. "Unless you vote, nobody's going to care."
During a question and answer session, a volunteer of the Peace Corps asked why Cooper didn't cover more stories on the overwhelming problems of HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Cooper responded that while he personally believes it is a crisis that needs to be addressed, the only stories that get reported on are those that people will watch. Unfortunately, Cooper said, people in the US aren't interested in these topics and won't watch shows on them.
Sophomore psychology major Stella Kanchewa came to see Cooper speak due to what she said was his impartial and straightforward reporting.
"I came because I respect his objective news casting," Kanchewa said. "I feel like a lot of the news that's given to us is partisan and one-sided, and we deserve better than that."
When asked who the top three people he would most want to interview would be, Cooper fell back on the wit that made him popular early in his career — his response was "K-Fed." Then — after quickly explaining who "K-Fed" (Kevin Federline, husband of pop star Britney Spears) was — Cooper recalled an interview he had done with an African woman who was gang-raped in front of her children and then forced to leave her home when her husband learned of the incident.
The anchor said it was people like this woman that he would want to interview, to find out how she was doing now.
Karen Flaig, a sophomore speech and hearing science major, was thrilled by Cooper's speech.
"He was absolutely wonderful, funny, intelligent and very humble," Flaig said. "He was far more inspiring than the Dalai Lama, I really want to go out and make a difference."