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Anderson Cooper still believes in journalism

Cooper to Cronkite students: Passion, not tech skills, will be key to careers.
October 17, 2018

The Emmy winner accepts his 2018 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and speaks of the continuing importance of the field

CNN reporter Anderson Cooper has covered some of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, yet he remains an optimist about mankind and, especially, the role of journalists in telling people's stories — despite current antagonism toward the media.

“The answer to the attacks on reporting is more reporting,” he said. 

“There is truth and there are lies. There are facts and there is fiction, and it is our job to point that out even if it seems at times like no one is listening,” said Cooper, who received the 2018 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism on Wednesday. A journalist for more than 25 years, he has won 13 Emmys and is the anchor of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper’s 360” and a correspondent for “60 Minutes.”

Global poverty is declining and literacy and health are improving, and there is much to be hopeful about, Cooper said at the awards luncheon held by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

“The thing that gives me the most hope is the power each of us has to reach out and care for someone else,” he said.

Cooper, who has covered war zones and natural disasters, recalled the many times he has seen strangers helping each other during a crisis. 

“I’ve seen so many acts of bravery and selflessness among others,” he said.

Cooper praised the Cronkite School students and said he’s impressed that they have a clear vision of their journalism careers. After he graduated from college, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He tried to get a job as a broadcast journalist, but when no one would hire him, he set off for Africa.

“If no one would give me a chance, I had to take a chance. I decided to start going to wars.”

Using a fake press pass, he went to Somalia in 1992, during a famine and civil war.

“Until I had been to Somalia, I had never seen starvation up close,” he said, remembering the bodies piled up everywhere. He sat with a couple whose young son had just died, the boy’s legs as thin as the twigs that made up their hut. He was their fourth child to die.

“It was in that moment I found my calling,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t save people's lives, but I could bear witness to their struggles. They weren’t dying in silence.”

Even with all the powerful stories he has told, Cooper still feels like he rarely does justice to the enormity of the moments he has seen.

“You try to capture all that — not just the facts and numbers and names but the sounds and the smells and the silences. 

“You try to find words to convey the horror and humanity you’re surrounded by.

“More often than not you fail because that camera lens is so small.”

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Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan (left) and ASU Provost Mark Searle present Anderson Cooper (center) with his Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Christopher Callahan, the dean of the Cronkite School, thanked Cooper for “speaking truth to power in the great tradition of Walter Cronkite.”

“At a time in our history when journalism, facts and the truth itself are under attack every day, we believe that a free, robust and unfettered press remains the most essential element to the health and the future of our great country, our democracy and our freedom,” Callahan said.

Gabriella Bachara, a senior in the Cronkite School, told the crowd that Cooper is a constant presence on the big TV screen in the First Amendment Forum in the school. 

“I’ve sat in the forum with hundreds of other students watching him break the biggest news stories during my four years here at ASU,” she said.

After the luncheon, Cooper met with students in the Cronkite School on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus.

Senior journalism major Bryce Newberry asked Cooper how he prepares a show when the news is constantly changing.

“All I do is read stuff all day long,” Cooper said. 

“What I prepare for are contentious interviews. I spend hours looking for transcripts of every interview that person has done over the last six weeks.”

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Walter Cronkite School of Mass Communication students packed the First Amendment Forum to hear Anderson Cooper speak on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

That preparation allows him to see their talking points.

“You can arm yourself with facts and you’ll see if somebody said something that’s not true, and you have what is true, you can have that in your arsenal to push back.”

Cooper told the students that they have technical skills he never learned, but that passion will be the key to their careers.

“You all have something that is unique and different, and don’t let somebody in a newsroom who’s been in the profession for 40 years squeeze that out of you and make you sound like everybody else who’s already in the newsroom.”

Top photo: Emmy and Peabody Award-winning broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper speaks after receiving the 2018 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, on Oct. 17, 2018. He spoke of his adventures and some of the journalists he’s known who have given their lives while telling stories around the world. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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Journalists visit ASU to discuss 'Religion in the Civic Sphere'

Experts wonder if evangelical women's support for Trump is waning.
NY Times op-ed columnist skeptical that Kavanaugh won't overturn Roe v. Wade.
October 17, 2018

Rousing discussion about evangelical votes, civil religion and more part of series looking at 'Religion, Journalism and Democracy'

Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict interim director John Carlson warned audience members at an event Tuesday evening on Arizona State University's Tempe campus that they’d better be having a late dinner.

“Many of us grew up being told not to talk about religion and politics at dinner, so I’m going to assume we’re all eating late tonight, because that’s exactly what we’re going to do now,” he said. “Tonight, we’ll be exploring the role religion plays in public life — the good, the bad and the ugly — with a focus on the civic sphere.”

Sponsored by the School for Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership as part of its “Polarization and Civil Disagreement” lecture series, “Religion in the Civic Sphere” featured New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat; editor-at-large for the National Review Kathryn Jean Lopez; and Chicago-based journalist Amy Sullivan, who has covered religion and politics for TIME, Yahoo and the Washington Monthly. Carlson served as moderator, and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict as a co-sponsor, along with the University of Mary.

The panel discussion was the second of three public talks related to a project spearheaded by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Religion, Journalism and Democracy” brings together journalists and religious scholars to exchange insights and expertise in a series of workshops, public talks and private luncheons throughout the fall semester.

“What makes this panel — and the center’s yearlong project — so exciting is the opportunity to advance public understanding about the role of religion in public life," Carlson said. "Religion has always been part of democratic life. The question we need to explore are the ways in which it informs or distorts our visions of what it means to be citizens in a republic.”

The third public talk, “A Conversation on Religion, Journalism and Democracy with Daniel Burke,” takes place Monday, Oct. 29, from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Cronkite First Amendment Forum on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

The conversation at Tuesday evening’s event was lively, ranging from religious female voting patterns to abortion to civil religion in the Donald Trump White House.

Much of what was discussed was framed by how it might affect the upcoming midterm elections in November. And the “perennial question,” Sullivan said, “is whether Trump is losing evangelical women or not.”

Panelists were uncertain, but Douthat said it’s likely that many evangelical women who voted for Trump did so while “holding their nose,” and that perhaps some of them regret it — something that will be revealed on Nov. 6.

Regarding concerns about freshly appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion rights, Douthat pointed out that while pledging her support for him, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins attempted to reassure the public that Kavanaugh would not overturn Roe v. Wade.

Douthat was skeptical: “Somebody is getting taken for a ride here, and we’ll find out who in the next five years.”

When conversation turned to the state of civil religion in the Trump administration, Sullivan shared an anecdote about her 4-year-old son, who made a comment about the president being mean. She felt it demonstrated how even young children are picking up on public sentiment that the current president is lacking in moral character.

Carlson explained civil religion as the guiding principles of the country that include such notions as freedom and human dignity for all.

“This president is not a real strong voice of civil religion,” Carlson argued, citing Trump’s reluctance to halt a billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite the country’s apparent sanctioning of the alleged murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

What Carlson wanted to know from the panelists was whether we, as a nation, can recover from what he called a seeming moral descent.

“I do think we can recover,” Lopez said. “But it depends on who’s willing to fight for principles and party leadership.”

The discussion concluded with questions from audience members, one of whom posited a question in the same vein, about how a nation so divided can possibly come together again in light of major differences of opinion on political, religious and general life issues.

Lopez’s response was simple but poignant: “We all have something in common.”

Top photo: New York Times columnist Ross Douthat speaks during "Religion in the Civic Sphere: A Panel Discussion," on Tuesday in Old Main. From left, panelists Kathryn Jean Lopez, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute; Douthat; and Chicago-based journalist Amy Sullivan held a lively political discussion moderated by John Carlson, interim director of ASU's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Ross Douthat was also a featured speaker at the lecture, "One Country, Three Faiths: America's Real Religious Divide," hosted by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

 

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now