From his early days as a reporter covering wars in Somalia and Burma and genocide in Rwanda, Anderson Cooper often traveled solo, learning to handle perilous situations—and fear.
“To me,” he says, “it’s not a question of whether I’m going, it’s a question of how fast can I get there?”
With experience came wisdom and a greater measure of security, but in the beginning, Cooper overcame fear by plunging in. He simply made a fake press pass, borrowed a camera and went to war.
“My first three years, I can’t believe some of the things I did,” he says. “The idea of going to Somalia alone, not having a place to stay or security. I was 23 or 24. There was fighting between different clans in the city. I literally landed on the airstrip and had no idea about the town.
“A truckload of gunmen approached me, and I ended up hiring them as my gunmen, and we went around to the burial grounds where all these bodies were being dumped, and there were all these empty pits. I was thinking, they could just shoot me and put me in a pit and no one would ever know.”
His overall attitude about fear, the CNN newsman says, was based not on naïveté but determination.
“I don’t think I was naïve,” he says. “I just didn’t allow fear to stop me from going to a place. I don’t believe you should be ruled by fear in anything in your life. I don’t like anything that scares me, and I prefer to face it head-on and get over it. Anyone who says they’re not scared is a fool or a liar, or both. I just don’t want that fear in my stomach to be part of my life, so I work to eliminate it.”
Cooper has a clear way of explaining how leaders get started, as in Haiti, where he arrived less than 24 hours after January’s earthquake and didn’t sleep for the first few days: “You just turn on the camera and open your eyes.”
— Adapted from “Anderson Cooper, Eyewitness,” interview with Christopher Keyes, Outside.