My 20-Second Conversation with CNN’s Anderson Cooper

“Hello, I’m Anderson.”

That’s how my 20-second conversation started with CNN’s Anderson Cooper at a reception after the Richmond Forum on Feb. 19.

Cooper’s greeting in the fast-moving photo line surprised me. I thought, “Of course, who doesn’t know Anderson Cooper?”  I sensed the undeterred journalist in him truly wanted to ask a few more questions, but the line of anxious Forum fans awaited.

Michele and I had the unique opportunity to hear from and briefly meet the silver-haired, former war-time correspondent. Our good friends and fellow small business owners shared their tickets for a candid and conversational evening that this self-proclaimed news junkie isn’t likely to forget.

Hard news means “serving broccoli”

We listened intently from the orchestra pit as Cooper captivated a packed Landmark Theater with stories of war, violence, famine and natural disaster. He described reporting these hard news stories as “serving broccoli,” implying that Americans might not want to always hear about international news.

Interestingly, this newsman didn’t use any video in his presentation. He talked off the cuff and from a prepared script for most of the event.

Cooper has seen more in his 43 years of life than most of us would care to see.

He described in vivid detail watching helplessly as someone starved to death and the random violence that plagues so many parts of the world.

The newsman becomes the news story

Before Cooper came to Richmond he had returned from war-torn Egypt. The embattled streets of Cairo likely seemed like a world away for Cooper, who described being struck by angry Mubarak supporters. “I always wondered what it would feel like to be punched,” joked the host of CNN’sAC360°.

Unfortunately, Cooper did feel the hateful sting of punches and revolt-driven taunts on the streets of Cairo. Luckily, he was able to produce his evening show for several nights, while sometimes lying on the floor of a darkened hotel room in an undisclosed location. Then, as quickly as he arrived in this area of revolutionary revolt, Cooper was back in CNN’s climate-controlled studio in New York.

When asked about adjusting to normal life, it is clear that Cooper really didn’t have many answers. His commitment to telling stories that others don’t want to tell is commendable, especially if it means putting himself at risk. (It also helps that breaking news tends to drive up CNN’s ratings as it did in February.)

An unlikely journey to CNN

Copper’s journey to CNN surprises many. In fact, it reinforces his desire to be where the story is – even if it means danger and uncertainty. At the Forum, Cooper described how the bulletproof glass of a military vehicle in Iraq and Afghanistan can cloud a reporter’s viewpoints literally and figuratively.

Shortly after graduating from Yale, with a fake press pass and video camera in hand, Cooper left for the war-torn streets of Myanmar to cover students fighting the Burmese government.

Cooper didn’t have much of a plan or an employer. He just wanted to become a war-time correspondent.

Watch some early footage of Cooper as a field correspondent for Channel One, which broadcasted in high schools nationwide.

For the long haul

“I’m in this for the long haul,” Cooper told the audience about never wanting to put sources for his stories at risk.

Michele and I both sensed his sincerity and a certain degree of humbleness in his many accomplishments, including multiple Emmys and accolades from foreign governments.

Back to the Forum reception. While we had Cooper’s attention for the remaining 18 seconds, I encouraged him to “keep serving up tasty broccoli” and enjoy his visit to Richmond. Somehow pitching him on a client’s story didn’t seem quite right.

Jonathan Rhudy doesn't watch much live TV thanks to TIVO.