CNN’s Anderson Cooper talks Kathy Griffin, life and politics at JCC

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In an emotional statement, comedian Kathy Griffin says she thinks President Trump ‘broke her.’
USA TODAY

Anderson Cooper’s face is well known thanks to his years as a broadcast journalist with CNN. Sunday, he kicked off the Kaplen Jewish Community Center On The Palisades’ Patron of the Arts series.

For the past 10 years, he hosted CNN’s New Year’s Eve broadcast with Kathy Griffin, who was recently fired by the network after her controversial photo of her holding what appeared to be the bloody, decapitated head of Donald Trump. Cooper, who is friends with Griffin, tweeted about the stunt, calling it “disgusting and completely inappropriate.”

When asked about Griffin, he repeated the words from his tweet but added that there was nothing wrong with being honest in the course of a friendship. He said that anything that happens between him and Griffin would be private.

“I understand CNN’s decision and I wish her well,” Cooper said. “I don’t think anyone deserves to have their career destroyed because they did something stupid.”

Throughout the night, Cooper spoke of his life leading up to his time at CNN. He referenced his mother and often did so with great humor. Cooper is the son of heiress and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt and writer Wyatt Emory Cooper. According to Cooper, his mother has rarely given him practical advice, once advising him to wear vertical stripes for a job interview because they were slimming. He was 15 and getting ready to interview to be a waiter.

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But Cooper said one of Vanderbilt’s greatest pieces of advice was “follow your bliss.” He took the advice to heart, especially after the Cold War ended and left his focus of study, political science, with a focus on Communism and the Soviet Union, practically useless. When he had asked what he should do with his future, she uttered those words and they have followed Cooper throughout his career.

Cooper’s beginnings in journalism began in a much darker place. His older brother, Carter, committed suicide when he was 23 by jumping from the 14th floor terrace of the family’s penthouse in front of his mother, which Cooper said had a huge impact on his life and is one of the reasons he became a correspondent.

“I couldn’t save lives but I could bear witness to their suffering,” Cooper said. “I wanted to go places where the language of loss was spoken.”

Cooper said he sought out other people’s suffering because he was “trying to figure out how to survive” with his own grief.

During the night, Cooper fielded questions about various things, from politics and covering Donald Trump to what hair product he uses, and did his best to answer all questions.

“It’s challenging being a reporter,” he said, noting the climate towards the media has been hostile with Trump declaring the media the ‘enemy of the American people.’ “Politicians lie and stretch the truth.”

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He noted that it has become difficult to obtain accurate information from the White House due to how fast Trump is moving and that his staff struggled to keep up-to-date. 

“Facts matter and the truth matters,” Cooper said. “It’s dangerous to not have up-to-date information.”

Cooper believes it is his job to get the facts right and to ask the important questions no matter who it is he is interviewing.

“It’s not my job to be friends with them,” he said. “I don’t want a relationship with anyone I’m covering because I’m there to ask the tough questions.”

Despite being entrenched in the news industry, Cooper said he now makes an effort to limit how much he consumes on the weekend and his days off. He said it is east to not be present during the day because he is always thinking towards the next thing.

“It’s easy to have 20 years go back and ask where have I been?” Cooper said.

Years before he was the star of “Anderson Cooper 360º,” he began his journalism career by making a fake press pass and crossing into Burma to interview students fighting the government. He was working as fact checker for Channel 1 news at the time and was able to sell his videos to the network. Part of Cooper’s early career is outlined in his book, “Dispatches from the Edge.”

When asked about public figures who have impressed him, Cooper noted that it’s the people whose names other’s have forgotten that impress him. The people who attempt to live good lives in the face of adversity. He remembered the story of a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo who had been gang raped by a group of soldiers. Her brother was killed in front of her for refusing to participate and one of her children was thrown onto an open fire. After being kicked out of the village by her husband, she was trying to “live a good a decent life.” Her struggles and perseverance have inspired Cooper.

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“I think about her when I close my eyes at night,” Cooper said.

He recently wrote a second book “The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Love, Life and Loss” with Vanderbilt, which spouted from a year long project they began together. Cooper also does work with 60 Minutes on CBS.

At the end of the night, VIP guests had the opportunity to meet Cooper face to face, get their books signed by him and have their picture taken with him.

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