Monday, April 27, 2015

Anderson Cooper in Phoenix, AZ for Diversity/Democracy Event

Anderson Cooper came to Phoenix on Saturday, April 24th, at the invitation of Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.  The afternoon was billed as a discussion on diversity, which is a very timely and important topic for all of us, especially those in the African American community who made up a large part of the audience.

The event was held at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix.  This is no ordinary church, its outreach broadcasts are watched by thousands of people each Sunday and the sanctuary seats 2,500 worshipers.  But as impressive as that is the choir is the crowning jewel of this ministry, in my opinion.  They shared their talents with the audience on Saturday, singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ along with several other selections before Anderson spoke, getting the event off to a rousing and inspiring start.  The audience for Cooper’s appearance included church members, college students, members of the community, elected officials and the ever devoted AC fans. The common denominator among attendees was community improvement and understanding why police violence toward men in the AA community repeats in every news cycle these days.  On this subject Anderson said he thinks that this violence is nothing new (a fact to which many in the audience could attest) but we hear more about it now because cameras are everywhere.  He praised the young man in South Carolina who was brave enough to keep his cell camera rolling as Walter Scott was murdered by police.  He also talked of how he spent time with Scott’s mother and family, privately with cameras off, as they prayed and grieved for their lost loved one. He marveled at their strength and grace.

Several local notables, including Phoenix's mayor Greg Stanton, made opening remarks.  Mayor Stanton mentioned that he had briefly switched to MSNBC but was back to watching CNN.  Later AC's remarks included his memorable line about why would anyone want to be a blown dry anchor or a politician….why be a fake person when you can be a real person? And then without missing a beat he apologized to the Mayor but said he had it coming for the MSNBC remark.
Anderson went on to mention a few more of his stock talking points, fake press pass, wear vertical stripes, his time roaming Africa, losing his father at a young age and then his brother’s suicide.  He also laughed at his useless focus at Yale on Communism (the Berlin Wall fell right before his senior year) and other stories most ATA readers are familiar with. He limited himself to this brief introduction before turning the program over to Dr. Matthew C. Whitaker, the director of CSRD at ASU who led a discussion with Anderson that was interspersed with questions from audience members.  There were no personal questions, I should note, everything stayed on topic focusing on civil rights, diversity and democracy.

One question of note was a Native American student from ASU who asked Anderson’s opinion on the situation with Native Americans in our country.  AC admitted he was not familiar with this issue and realized he needed to learn more so he would educate himself starting on Monday. Since AC couldn't answer her question she got a follow up and asked his opinion on the controversy over using Native American objects and nicknames for team mascots, i.e. Redskins, Braves, etc.   AC talked around the question for a while and then personalized it by saying he wouldn't like it if a team were named the New York Fairies.  It brought a laugh but he expounded upon it and related prejudice against gays to other minorities’ struggles. Anderson said that he knows many effeminate gays and the great hardships they are subjected to.  From being ostracized, beaten up, mocked and worse their lives aren't easy.  He went on to say he was lucky because he could 'pass' (meaning it's not as obvious he is gay).  He said society perceives effeminate gays as weak but they are some of the strongest people he knows because of what they've endured.  It was a very touching moment and a viewpoint that you don't often hear.  

Anderson also touched a bit on his program and CNN’s current focus on certain stories.  He said that news is driven by what viewers want to see and they don’t typically give high ratings to stories happening outside of the US (excluding disasters or war) or good news stories. He also said he doesn’t believe that the world is less safe than it was when he was a child, citing statistics that backup his statement.  He said we just know more these days because of social media and the never ending news cycle.  He went on to mention Nepal and the earthquake as an example.  He said he had already heard from CNN 2012 Hero Pushpa Basnet that she and the children of her orphanage in Nepal were safe but homeless.  That’s the power of communication in our world today, someone on the other side of the Earth can reach out after a devastating disaster to a friend just to say they are alive.2Anderson also gave high marks to his employer on their diversity.  He said,“CNN has major initiatives to make newsrooms diverse, this doesn't just have to be race, but with gender, sexuality, politics and geography. Diversity is incredibly important.”

Here’s a short clip of Anderson answering ASU Cronkite student Stephanie Guzman’s question:

A few more brief notes of things that caught my attention:  

Anderson mentioned he did not have kids and then a pause and added …….yet.    

An ASU professor shared that when he told him mother that AC was the keynote speaker this year she said ‘my baby Anderson?’.  The professor feigned jealousy and told us that he thought he was the only person on this Earth that his mother called baby.  He also referred to Anderson as a brother from another mother a few times, which seemed to please Mr. Cooper.

At the beginning of the program it was mentioned that Saturday was the Nerd Prom (White House correspondents dinner) in Washington, DC.  The speaker said we were lucky that Anderson choose to come to Phoenix instead of going to be with the POTUS.  I had to chuckle because AC hasn’t gone to the Nerd Prom since the early 2000’s when Paula Zhan forced him to dance with her. 

Another funny moment came when a young lady who seemed to be crushing on this newsman particularly hard (admit it we’ve all been there) asked a question from her balcony seat.  She was a cute as could be, tossing her hair and smiling sweetly while he talked.  For the life of me I can’t remember her question, just that flirty way she asked it. 

Anderson talked at length about Gordon Parks and the influences he had on AC’s life.  He mentioned Parks friendship with both his parents and implied that there was a very close bond with Parks and Anderson’s mother after the death of Wyatt. He educated the audience a bit on who Gordon was and the many strides he made for all African Americans including being the first Black Life Magazine photographer, the first Black director in Hollywood (Shaft) and other notable mentions.

So there you have my impressions of Anderson’s appearance in Phoenix, Arizona.  I started this blog almost 10 years ago and while I’m not actively posting anymore I still tune in to 360 most evenings. In all those years our readers have had one up on me, most of them have heard AC speak in person.  From book signings, field reporting, commencement speeches and the like you email ATA with your impressions and your photos.  It’s nice to finally be able to say I’ve had the pleasure too.  Thank you for coming to Phoenix Mr. Cooper.  ~ Phebe

Twitter blew up with pictures of Anderson at this event.   If you’re interested in seeing more try searching the hashtags #Democracy15 @CSRDatASU.

AC360 Transcript
AC360 Podcast

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Jaanza said...

Thanks for the terrific post, Phebe, sounds like it was a great event and Anderson enjoyed talking there. Somebody I'll finally see Anderson in person at a lecture/forum or book signing or sitting next to me on the subway the next time I get to NYC.

I'm predicting tonight's 360 will be entirely on the Baltimore riots. That was Jake Tapper's whole show and I think most of Blitzer's also. Tapper was, at least, able to mention new Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the end of the his show.
I can't watch tonight's 360 ('Gotham') but will try to check out the videos on the website later.

aries moon said...

Congratulations on finally seeing Anderson in person Phebe and for your vivid and enlightening account of the his lecture--this would've been a must-see for me because of the theme of the event and my interest in hearing AC speak about diversity/democracy. Although I get what Anderson was saying about CNN's efforts to ensure diversity in its newsrooms, from what I hear, they still have a lot of work to do on that end and while 'diverse' may have many meanings, some African-American groups have been disappointed with CNN lately--in particular, the National Association of Black Journalists, which CNN cut long-standing ties with recently.

Anderson being able to talk openly about the real strength of effeminate gays and the problems they face to an audience of people who may have preconceived notions, prejudices and lack of empathy for them is really valuable and important and may play a part in changing minds.

Sounds like AC is still hoping to start a family one day--hopefully he'll get to it a lot sooner than Elton John did.

Sad to see the fires/looting/violence in Baltimore--I understand the anger and frustration and the feeling of hopelessness but the focus on the REAL problem of police brutality in African American communities will inevitably be dismissed and downplayed because of the rioters actions. No one condones violence or looting, but there are still police officers out there killing young men for no reason and not having to be held accountable for it and that cannot be condoned, justified or forgotten. The powers that be and yes Anderson, THE MEDIA, sometimes DO play up the violence/looting in order to ensure that the public turns against PEACEFUL protestors of police brutality in order to silence them and their legitimate concerns.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to speak about effeminate gay males and how he could pass... I recall very early on that many people assumed he was gay early on in his career and way before he came out publicly. No one was shocked when he said he was gay, so while he maybe 'passed' overseas he certainly didn't here. Lol I'm a native of baltimore and AC is here I was going to try and go down city hall to speak to him but I figured, it would be better in different circumstances. Until next time.