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CNN Larry King Live
Interview With Anderson Cooper
Aired June 01, 2006 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm live outside Meridian, Mississippi. Good evening again from Baquba, Iraq. Here in Maradi, Niger which is really ground zero of this crisis.
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LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, a journey from private heartbreak to the front lines of the news with CNN's Anderson Cooper. He grew up among what some would call American royalty but two tragedies changed his life forever. His father's untimely death when Anderson was only ten and his brother's suicide witnessed by his famous mom, Gloria Vanderbilt.
Anderson Cooper shares memories and family secrets and more in an emotional hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, Anderson Cooper, the host of AC's 360, the program that airs following this one each night, the author of the book "Dispatches From the Edge, a Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival" and we're told it's already number one on Amazon, why now? Why a book now?
COOPER: For me it really came about in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I mean I had been writing this book in my head for about 15 years and I was taking notes on it.
But there was something about being in New Orleans and I was worried that as the floodwaters receded and as the convention center got cleaned up and the Super Dome got cleaned up that, you know, one day people would just forget about what happened there.
And, it would only be those who suffered through it and survived through it who would remember. And I wanted to, you know, sort of write down all the people I was meeting and the things that I couldn't show on television, just the conversations with police officers, you know, late at night in bars and on the street and just sort of pay homage to what I was seeing.
And, also I kept being surrounded by things from my past suddenly in the present, memories that my father had gone to high school in New Orleans and had grown up in Mississippi and I suddenly drove by his old high school and remembered being there as a child with him. And so, it was sort of this union of past and present that made me just start to write. KING: And we'll talk a lot more about Katrina later and emotional reporting. But why you could have written just about Katrina? You could have written just -- why did you decide to discuss your dad and your brother?
COOPER: Well the book just really it's not a linear story. It goes back and forth through time and for me there was a real realization this year of just how present the past is in the present, how much the past never goes away.
And, I think, you know, I certainly sort of tried to run from losses I experienced as a kid and things from my past and, you know, realized this year that you can't run from that kind of stuff that it's all around you.
And, really that was for me one of the lessons in the wake of Katrina, I mean just being -- I went into -- I met with John Grisham. We were doing a story a couple days after Katrina and he said, "Oh, let's go to Biloxi, Mississippi and we'll go to this restaurant called Mary Mahoney's (ph) and we'll do the interview there because it got destroyed and they're trying to rebuild."
So, I go and I'm a little bit early and I walk in and Bob Mahoney, the owner of the restaurant, comes out and says "Anderson, welcome back." And, I said "What do you mean welcome back?" And he said, "You were here in 1976 with your father. You sat at that table. You came in from the waterslide park. You were eight years old. You were wet still. You had a towel wrapped around you" and suddenly it all came back. And so, there were just so many moments like that, I just started to write.
KING: What did your dad do?
COOPER: He was a writer. He was a writer. He was born in a small town in Mississippi called Quitman (ph) and moved to New Orleans for a couple years and went to UCLA, tried to be an actor and did a little bit of acting, wrote some movies or screen plays with Truman Capote, did a movie called "The Chapman Report" and a couple others.
KING: I remember "The Chapman Report."
COOPER: Became a writer and wrote actually a book about his family growing up with the south and music he had called "Families" and it's funny. It's out of print now but it's like on eBay for like $1,000 or something. It's crazy.
KING: Having lost my father when I was nine and a half...
COOPER: Oh, really I didn't know that.
KING: That never leaves you.
COOPER: It never does. It changes everything. For me the person I was disappeared when I was ten. I mean the person that I was, I feel like, you know, it was like the new year zero. My life, you know, it seemed like the slate was wiped clean and I had to figure out how to survive and how to be my own person.
KING: Was it sudden?
COOPER: It was, yes. I mean for me it was. He had had a heart attack. He died on an operating table when he was 50 years old and he had had a heart attack two years before but I was eight years old. I didn't really, you know, pay much attention to it.
KING: Where were you when he died?
COOPER: I was asleep. He was having surgery and...
KING: Who told you your mother?
COOPER: My mom. She came into the room and my brother and I were sleeping in the same room.
KING: He was older right your brother?
COOPER: He was two years older, yes, and I'll never forget. I mean she came into the room and woke me up. And, I don't remember the exact words she used and I wish she did but I remember her crying and saying something to the effect of, you know, "Daddy's gone."
And, I remember, you know, we all started crying and there was a guy named Al Hirschfeld, a famous cartoonist, who was -- he and his wife were at the house as well and we went in and talked with them. For years afterward every time I saw a Sunday "New York Times" with Al Hirschfeld's cartoons I thought of that night.
But it never -- you know, as you know, I mean it never goes away. I mean that word closure I don't -- you know there's no such word. It's like a TV word. You know the pain changes. The pain lessens but, you know, it's always there.
KING: Your mom never remarried right?
COOPER: She didn't, yes, no.
KING: Did you want her to?
COOPER: I did, yes I did. I mean, you know, I was ten and she had been married to a guy before named Sidney Lumet, a great director, and just a great, great man and they dated a little bit after my father passed away and I was sort of hoping that they might remarry but they didn't. And, yes, you know, there were a couple times where I thought she was getting close but she never did.
KING: Did it affect your brother more than you do you think?
COOPER: Yes, I think so. I mean I didn't realize it at the time.
KING: The older boy would be closer wouldn't he?
COOPER: Right, that was it. I mean they had a more mature relationship. I had a mild reading problem, a mild form of dyslexia, so I didn't -- I wasn't reading a lot before when I was a kid and my brother read a lot and discussed with my father history. And they used to read like stories from the Bible together and talk about it. They loved just sort of stories and I think they had a real bond over literature and writing.
KING: So, it changed you. What did it do to your brother?
COOPER: Well, I think for both of us it changed us in ways. I mean I think we never talked about it with each other which at the time I didn't think was odd. It's only in certain retrospect. I mean and I don't think brothers really do talk all that much, especially very young brothers.
But, we never really discussed it. We never really, you know, it was like -- it was -- the pain was so great that for both of us it was too painful to kind of go near and touch and we both I think tried to run from it different ways. I tried to become completely independent.
And, you know, I started earning my own money. I got a job when I was eleven. I started taking survival courses in high school, you know, literally to try to figure out how to survive. And, I think he didn't really try to -- he had the same fears and the same concerns but I don't think he went about it in a practical way.
KING: Anderson Cooper is our guest. The book, an extraordinary book, and already a major best seller, "Dispatches From the Edge, A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival." We'll be right back.
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GLORIA VANDERBILT: I feel that I was born with a sense of loss because I did not have -- my father died when I was 15 months old and my mother was really taken from me in a certain sense.
KING: I know in a court settlement.
VANDERBILT: And I didn't get to know her, in a custody case.
KING: What do you mean by sense of loss, Gloria, a sense of loss?
VANDERBILT: Well, a sense of deep loss that you are forever trying to find if you don't have a mother and a father.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Anderson Cooper. Do you ever talk to your mother about her own extraordinary life that court battle, the poor little rich girl?
COOPER: Yes. Yes.
KING: It's one of the famous stories in American tabloid history.
COOPER: I know. It's amazing. I mean when I was growing up I had no idea about any of it really and, you know, at the age -- what's amazing about my mom is she's 82 now and she really comes from a world that doesn't exist anymore in some ways, you know, and there's not many people from that world still exist.
And, the fact that she's able to operate in this world, I mean she's lived so many different lives it's fascinating. Like, I'll be sitting watching an old movie with her or something, you know, and I'll be like, you know, I remember as a kid I said -- I remember watching "On the Waterfront."
And I remember turning to her and be like "Did you know Marlon Brando?" And she'd get like all wispy-eyed and be like, "Ah, yes, I knew him." And I'd be like "What does that mean? Like how did" you know.
KING: She dated...
COOPER: She dated him right.
KING: ...some of the most famous men in the world.
COOPER: Right, Frank Sinatra same thing and actually recently I had lunch with her and my Uncle Harry and his wife Val and my mom was wearing this like pendant bracelet with like a charm bracelet. And, my Aunt Val asked her like "Oh, what's this charm?" And she's like "Oh, Howard Hughes gave me this charm." I was like "Good Lord."
KING: Well, she's amazingly beautiful and an incredible, a tough life though.
KING: I mean tough, bad and good.
KING: She had a lot of the best and a lot of the worst.
COOPER: True. But what's amazing about her is, you know, people use that term survivor and she's a survivor but there's not -- she's not tough. There's not -- she's been through a lot of tough things but I think I use the word strong.
I think she's incredibly strong but she's incredibly vulnerable still and I think that's sort of a precious thing and a difficult thing to maintain, you know, when life has knocked you down so many times. The fact that she can maintain that sort of that trust and openness is pretty extraordinary.
KING: How old were you when the jeans came out?
COOPER: That was probably like the late '70s or early '80s so I was just in middle school and that was the first time I really realized, you know, my mom was famous.
KING: First famous designer jeans right?
COOPER: Yes, it was really -- I mean it was huge. It was sort of remarkable.
KING: She came on this show.
COOPER: Oh, really, yes. And, yes, I remember that's when I really, you know, I started to realize, oh wait a minute, you know, this is, you know, my mom is ell known and people on the street would start to notice us and, you know, point and my brother and I played this game of counting how many times we saw my mom's name on, you know, someone's derriere.
KING: Are there still Vanderbilt jeans?
COOPER: They're still out there. She has nothing to do with it and (INAUDIBLE).
KING: All right, the tough part, what happened to your brother? What went wrong?
COOPER: Yes, well my brother Carter when he was -- about a year after he graduated college he was 23 committed suicide and he -- in front of my mother. He one very warm summer night in July leapt from the balcony of my mom's penthouse apartment in New York.
KING: You lived in an apartment building right and you had the top floor?
COOPER: Right, yes, she was living in a duplex apartment in a penthouse top floor, 14 stories.
KING: Were you there?
COOPER: I wasn't. I was in Washington. And the moment he died, it's strange I write about it in the book, the moment he died I was -- you know you always hear stories about brothers who feel each other's pain and brothers who know when the other brother is in trouble, even though they're not around. And, sadly mine isn't really one of those stories. I was riding on a subway at the moment my brother died and I didn't feel a thing.
KING: Did you know he was depressed?
COOPER: I knew he was depressed. I mean he had had about two or three months before he had had an incident where suddenly I learned he was depressed. I mean he stopped going to work and, you know, was talking about moving back home and was clearly fearful about the future and confused about what he wanted to do with his life. And, you know, I think it's that year after college it's a tough time when you're trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do and, you know, where life is going to lead you. And I think he was fearful about his future and depressed.
He had broken up with his girlfriend and I don't think he dealt with it. I mean I don't think he talked about it with friends. I don't think he had people who he talked about it with.
KING: So, therefore, you did not think he might commit suicide?
COOPER: No, it never occurred to me. I mean it just -- never in a million years would I have thought it. I mean and to do it in such a public way. I mean he was the most private person.
And, you know, I don't think it was a rational act. I don't think it was, "OK, well on Tuesday I'm going to commit suicide and, you know, I'm going to prepare and I'm going to write a note." There was none of that.
KING: Some people do that. There are prepared suicides.
COOPER: Some people do, right. And there was none of that. I mean there was no note. There was no, you know, he...
KING: Your mother ran up right behind him right?
COOPER: Yes, it was a Friday night. He had come home early that morning and didn't go to work that day. He was working for American Heritage, a history magazine, as an editor and he was clearly distressed. He said he hadn't slept the night before and he sort of slept on and off throughout the day and my mom was kind of watching over him.
And, you know, they had lunch together and she knew something was wrong but she couldn't really tell what it was and he couldn't really express what it was. And, she read him a story at one point late in the day from the New Yorker, a story by a writer named Michael Cunningham.
And, in the story a young man runs through a plate glass window in his parents' apartment and dies, severs an artery in his neck and dies in front of his parents. And it was sort of a shocking end to the story and my mom was sort of surprised by it.
And my brother said, "Oh, you know," she said that was disturbing and he said, you know, "But it was a good story" and it was a very well written story. And, he took a nap again and about 7:15 woke up and came into my mom's room disoriented, said, you know, "What's going on? What's going on?"
And she said "Nothing's going on," you know, and she says it was as if he was sort of sleepwalking like in a dream state. And he ran from her room and ran up the stairs and ran into my bedroom and through the open sliding glass doors. And by the time my mom caught up with him he was sitting with one leg on a balcony and one leg on the terrace.
And it was clear -- suddenly my mom, you know, was screaming "What are you doing? What are you doing?" And it all happened very quickly she says. I mean it was...
KING: Did he say anything?
COOPER: He did. I mean he said, you know, he had just started seeing a therapist. My mom called him and said, you know, "Do you want me to call the doctor for you" and he said "Yes" and he gave her the number but she didn't want to leave him alone on the balcony.
And so she was sort of torn about what to do. And she tried to approach at one point and he put his arm out and said "No, don't come any closer." And at one point a plane passed overhead, sort of a glint of silver in the late evening sky. And he looked up at it and she sort of has described as being almost like a signal to him somehow.
KING: To jump?
COOPER: To do something that it was some sort of a trigger in some way and he -- she describes it as being like a gymnast. He didn't actually jump. He sort of catapulted his body so that he was then hanging from the ledge.
And, moments before he did that he said to her "Will I ever feel again?" And she said "Yes, you will and I can help you and don't this. Don't do this to me. Don't do this to daddy. Don't do this to Anderson."
And shortly after the plane he was hanging from the ledge and there was a moment, she says, where she thought he was going to come back but he didn't. he just let go.
KING: Let go. What did she do? What do you do run down to the street?
COOPER: Yes, I know. I thought about that a lot and I've actually never really sort of talked to her about the details of it. I know she considered jumping over herself she has said almost following after him. She says she didn't because she thought about me.
But I know she went -- at some point went back downstairs or she must have been screaming. There was a housekeeper in the house and the housekeeper thought she was wrong that it couldn't have happened and that she -- I think she went downstairs and found out in fact that the police were already there and it had happened.
KING: He hit the ground?
KING: Not an awning, not a car.
KING: We'll be back with Anderson Cooper. This extraordinary book is "Dispatches From the Edge." Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VANDERBILT: I screamed at him and I said, "Carter, what are you doing?" And then he looked, kept looking down and then a plane came overhead and he looked up and as if it was the signal he reached out to me and I moved toward him and then he -- he like a gymnast went over the wall and held on. And, I said, "Carter, come back" and for a minute I thought he was going to and then he just let go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Anderson Cooper, the author of "Dispatches From the Edge, A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival." And, it's already number one on Amazon, no small feat.
Anderson, how did you find out about your brother's death?
COOPER: My mom called me and she...
KING: Same night?
COOPER: Same night. It took her a couple of hours to actually track me down. I was in Washington and I was just about to make a late dinner. And I can't remember the words she used again but I remember the pain in her voice and I remember just being -- it was like someone came out of the shadows and started stabbing me with a stiletto. I mean it was...
KING: You were very close to him?
COOPER: You know it's interesting I get asked that question "Were you close" and I write about that particular question in the book a lot. I don't know how to answer that. I don't know. I mean if you would have asked me then I would have said, "Yes, we were close" but, you know, I didn't...
KING: In retrospect you're not sure?
COOPER: In retrospect I didn't know he was going to kill himself. We weren't so close that I knew, you know, that we had talked about things, that we had shared.
KING: Didn't know he was in therapy?
COOPER: I knew he had started to see a therapist and I assumed that he was talking to the therapist. I sort of, you know, I kind of -- I wanted to know as much as I needed to know. And, as soon as I heard he was in therapy, I thought, OK, great, you know, he'll deal with it and I don't need to worry about it.
KING: What were you doing in Washington?
COOPER: I was working a summer job, internship, and...
KING: You were still in school?
COOPER: I was still in school. I had one more year of college left to go.
KING: Where did you go to school?
COOPER: I went to Yale and it made, you know, my senior year was just a complete blur. I mean after, you know, I considered taking a year off and not going back. And my mom said "Look, you got to go back. You got to finish." And, it was really tough.
And, you know, I graduated college without knowing what I wanted to do. I'd spent -- the year was, you know, I was still sort of trying to figure -- it was still just such a shock to me and it still is to this day. I mean it's been 17 years and it's...
KING: I see you spoke at Yale's commencement.
COOPER: I did and it was amazing. It was...
KING: Did you get an honorary degree or just...
COOPER: They don't do honorary degrees but it was funny. They told me, they had called me up and I have no memory of my own graduation and so they called me up and said "We want you to speak at class day" and I had no idea what it was frankly and I thought it would be like a small group of like, you know, seniors or something.
I get there and it's on this like -- it's outdoors. There's, you know, thousands of seats and it's one of those mikes where when you talk into it, it like reverberates out. I was like, "I thought I was talking to like 100 people, you know."
KING: I spoke at class day at Harvard Law. I still can't -- I never went to college. I still can't figure out what class day is.
COOPER: Well I'll tell you what it is.
KING: What is it? What is class day?
COOPER: I learned. Commencement, which happened on Monday at Yale they don't have a speaker. That's the official, that's where the entire university, graduate students, everyone. Class day is just for the undergraduates and their parents and it's where they actually have a speaker, so it's what everyone thinks of as their commencement.
KING: Did you rush right back to New York to be with your mom?
COOPER: I did. I did. I drove back. Shuttles, it was late at night. It was already past so the planes weren't running, so I rented a car, drove back all night.
KING: What were you thinking?
COOPER: You know I was angry. I was angry at him for doing that, for doing it in front of my mother. I mean that I couldn't, I just couldn't wrap my mind around that he had done it in front of my mother. And, you know, I was incredibly sad. I mean that's the thing about suicide it sort of leaves those who survive it with...
COOPER: Everything, guilt and anger and...
KING: It's selfish isn't it?
COOPER: In some ways.
KING: I mean in the sense that you could call that a selfish act.
COOPER: Yes, in some ways. I mean but I think I also understand that, you know, people aren't thinking right. I mean it's not -- I mean for some it may be a rational act, a decision. For others it's an impulse. For others it's something that emerges from within them and they can't stop it. It's a rush. It's a desire to cease pain.
KING: Have you studied it a lot? By that I mean have you done interviews a lot with people (INAUDIBLE)?
COOPER: I have, yes. I mean I try to focus a lot on it. I mean I think depression is a major issue in the United States and we actually focus a lot on it on the program.
I've had Mike Wallace on a lot. I've had his wife on and done some events with them. You know there's such a mystery to it and so many questions still and so much research that still needs to be done. But depression is just, it's, I mean it is a killer and it is a terrible, terrible thing.
KING: All right, how did your mother handle this afterwards?
COOPER: Hum. Yes, she handled it. I don't really know how she did it but she survived. I mean she -- there was for the day I mean as I write in the book it was -- there was the feeling for days afterward that we were sort of on a life raft and I remember sort of sitting on her bed feeling like the bed was this life raft.
And some people who, friends of the family who we thought would be able to like help out wouldn't, couldn't. They just couldn't deal with it or couldn't -- suicide sort of upsets people in some ways. And then some people totally surprised us. You know people I didn't even think were particularly close became incredibly close.
KING: What was the funeral like?
KING: Funeral of a suicide. COOPER: It was so strange. I mean it was so -- it was so -- to me it felt as if the city had shut down and I mean of course it hadn't. You know the world keeps spinning and life was going on but the block was closed off and there were all these spectators and all these cameras and people taking pictures.
And I remember sort of being upset about that and sort of being angry that, you know, people are taking, you know, that people -- when we went to view my brother's body at the funeral home that there were cameras waiting for us. And I've now been on the other side of those cameras and so I'm much more sensitive to, you know, to that having been the recipient of it.
KING: You are being one of them.
COOPER: Yes, yes.
KING: Let me get a break. We'll be right back with more of Anderson Cooper. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Carter Cooper was 23 years old at the time of his death. He had been under doctor's care for depression for the last six months. He was the third of Gloria Vanderbilt's four sons. Funeral services were held at the St. James Church on New York's Madison Avenue. A close friend of Gloria Vanderbilt, First Lady Nancy Reagan attended as did dozens of other celebrities.
The funeral service was titled in thanks for the life of Carter Vanderbilt Cooper. Anderson Cooper told the mourners that his brother Carter was an honorable man and that his soul was golden and true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Support for the African National Congress is strongest in a black township, like this here in Soweto. It's a rally in support of the ANC.
(voice-over): Reporters are supposed to ask questions, so I asked the obvious. Why all the killing in Rwanda?
(on camera): The sniper shots are hitting just a few, maybe about 100 or so feet away from here. As we drive down roads, just random demonstrations sort of erupt, people just celebrating the return.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Anderson Cooper, the author of "Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival."
Do you like being an author?
COOPER: I do. Yes. It's -- you know, but I realize now why more people don't write books. It's really hard.
KING: You like being front covered in "Vanity Fair?" Look at this photo.
COOPER: That's a little surreal. That's a little surreal. I got to tell you, yes, I didn't expect that.
KING: Kind of weird, do you walk by a lot of newsstands, and...
COOPER: I try not to look.
KING: You go into bookstores and you just glance over where -- come on, it's normal.
COOPER: I pass by the bookstores and sort of look to see, like, why isn't -- you know, why don't they have a big poster? You know.
KING: OK, oh it gets worse.
COOPER: That's when my agent called me up and said, you know, it's now number three on Amazon for a couple of days ago. And I was like that's great. And then, of course, I was like, why isn't it number one?
KING: Since you had the bad experience of the press covering your brother's funeral, why did you go into this field?
COOPER: Yes, it's interesting. If you asked me back then, I would never in a million years have thought I would be on the other side of the camera.
After college, I tried to get an entry-level job in news. I tried to get an entry-level job at ABC, answering phones, being a gopher basically. And I could not get this job. Which I, you know, show you the value of a Yale education, I guess.
So I came up with this plan. I figured if no one would give me a chance, I'd have to take a chance. I'd have to create my own opportunity. So I came up with this plan, which was -- I was interested in travel, I was interested in seeing the world, and I was interested in combat and interested in just learning how to survive and still trying to figure out what had happened to my brother.
So I figured I should go to places where tragedies had happened and people did survive, and learn from them. So I decided to start going to wars.
KING: On your own? Just go to wars?
COOPER: Yes. On my own.
KING: Paid by who?
COOPER: No one. A friend of mine made a fake press pass for me on a Macintosh computer.
KING: You were a war freak?
COOPER: No, I wouldn't say that. I was interested in -- I mean, I wanted to be a reporter. And I figured if I went places -- I mean, it's ludicrous. I figured if I went places where there weren't many Americans, I wouldn't have much competition. And if I went places that were dangerous, where most people wouldn't want to go, I'd have a better shot at becoming a reporter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Everywhere you go in Sarajevo, you're surrounded by snipers. There are hills all around and you can hear shots ringing out all the times, like that one. That was kind of close.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So did you freelance like?
KING: Submit stories?
COOPER: I had briefly worked as a fact checker for this thing called "Channel One," a show seen in high schools throughout the country. About half the high school...
KING: Yes, I remember "Channel One." And the guy that started it?
COOPER: Chris Whittle. Yes.
And, so I had a relationship with him, so I said, you know, I'm quitting my job as the fact checker. I'm going overseas. I borrowed a home video camera from them, had a fake press pass. And I figured, once I'm there -- I didn't tell them I want to be a reporter for you guys, because I figured they'd just say, no, it's too risky, don't do it. You know, you're not TV material.
But I figured why don't I -- I'll just go. I'll be there, and it'll be impossible for them not to put my material on. It'll cost them virtually nothing. And, you know, I will have already done it.
So, I went. I snuck into Burma in Southeast Asia and hooked up to some students fighting the Burmese government. And I shot a little story about them. And I sent it back to "Channel One," and they put it on the air.
KING: That's still your favorite thing, right? Going out to the hunt?
COOPER: It is.
KING: You like it better than the desk? COOPER: I do. I like the desk because, I mean, it's a mental exercise of the desk when you're anchoring. And especially during breaking news coverage. You know, I mean, there's nothing better when the teleprompter is blank and it's just you and, you know, the people watching. I mean, you know what it's like. And it's all live, and the electricity is incredible.
It's the closest to being on the field as there is. For me, there's nothing like that feeling of, you know, your truck screeching to a halt and you run toward what everyone else is running from. And you know, I've seen some just extraordinary things and keep learning. And every time I go, I feel like I learn something.
KING: Sometimes often horrific events make a journalist. We'll talk with Anderson Cooper about Katrina right after this.
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COOPER: Even those who survive, those who find ways to live behind broken windows and bombed-out buildings, have experienced a kind of death. I wasn't able to understand it until I spent time in a dark room, listening to shells land on nearby buildings, wondering if I was next. I found myself hating the bombers, wishing I could escape. I found myself crying with fear, because there's nothing else I could do. But I was able to fly home. The people of Sarajevo are trapped, and it's been going on for almost a year.
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COOPER: Welcome to "The Mole," I'm Anderson Cooper.
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KING: We're back with Anderson Cooper, the author of "Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival". How did you -- you were host of "The Mole", right?
COOPER: Well, yes. I worked at ABC. I did freelance -- I was overseas in combat zones for about two, two-and-a-half years, been to countries in conflict for Channel One. ABC News called me up.
Basically, I do this thing, fake press pass, go by myself for two years. And then all of a sudden, ABC News calls me up right before I went to the invasion of Haiti. And they said, "Do you have a tape?" And I thought it was a friend of mine, like, calling as a prank, because I mean, they literally rejected me two years ago to answer their telephones. And they called me up and said they wanted me to be a correspondent.
And I put together a tape of material, and sent it in. And ABC hired me, and I worked for ABC News for about five years.
KING: Doing various things.
COOPER: Yes. Weekend news, "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings".
KING: How did you get here?
COOPER: Well, I did -- I left ABC and did "The Mole" for about -- for two seasons. And then 9/11 happened, and I lived in New York. And I thought, "This is crazy, you know. I like telling stories. This is the worst thing that's ever happened to our country, in my lifetime certainly. And I want to -- I want to do what I can."
So I literally, a couple days after 9/11, a man who used to run Channel One was working at CNN as a consultant and executive and called me up and said, "Would you be interested in going to Afghanistan?"
I said, "Absolutely." And that's how it started.
KING: And how did it come -- how did you come to Katrina?
COOPER: I -- you know, I -- I'd been covering a lot of hurricanes. I'd never done hurricane reporting. I always used to kind of make fun of it, you know. Why is this guy standing out in the rain? Why can't they just move indoors?
KING: Which Dan Rather loved.
COOPER: Right, exactly. You know, as a viewer and having never been through a hurricane and never, you know, felt that threat, you know, it's obviously easy to make fun of. And once I started doing it, and started to see, A, just what a challenge it is. And I do think it's an important thing. And it's a valuable thing for those who have been through hurricanes. They do appreciate the people who are out there standing.
So I'd certainly been doing a lot of them, and you know, we heard about Katrina. We knew it was going to be big. And I was on vacation, actually, in Croatia. And flew back early and was able to get to Baton Rouge just as the storm started to hit.
KING: Do you like -- obviously, you like being a war correspondent, right?
COOPER: Yes, I mean...
KING: Do you like danger?
COOPER: No, I wouldn't say I like danger. I mean, I'm a complete wimp. I -- you know...
KING: But you walk in floods. You go down streets where things could happen. If you like being out in a hurricane, you like danger.
COOPER: I don't think that's true. I mean, I think -- I don't see those -- I don't bungee jump. I don't skydive. I'm not -- there's nothing -- I wouldn't take a risk just for the thrill of taking a risk. For me, everything I do, if there's a story to tell, then I'll do it.
To me, what I -- I mean, my mom used to ask me, "Why do you want to go to Rwanda and genocide? Or why are you going to Sarajevo again?" And you know, for me, it's always why wouldn't you go? There are people, there are thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people facing these calamities, facing these tragedies, and they're going through it. The least I can do is be there to tell their story.
KING: Did you see very early how bad Katrina was getting?
COOPER: You know, in Baton Rouge, where I was when the storm hit, I couldn't get to New Orleans because I literally flew from Croatia and got -- the roads were blocked by the -- I got there in the middle of the night on Sunday night. So in Baton Rouge, no. I mean, the winds were bad as a bad hurricane. We knew that. But -- but I didn't -- the damage wasn't in Baton Rouge.
I actually flew -- drove to catch the tail end of Katrina in Meridian, Mississippi, and you know, saw damage along the way and knew it was going to be bad. But for me, it wasn't until Tuesday when I got to Gulfport the day after the storm that instantly, you know, when I knew.
KING: We'll ask Anderson Cooper why he got so emotional and why he took his anger to the screen. Don't go away.
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COOPER: This may be the easy side of the storm, but it does not feel very easy right here on the banks of the Mississippi River. It's sort of so overwhelming at this point. There's no thought given at this point to cleaning anything up. Right now, there's still search and rescue operations going on. Police at this station in the French Quarter put up a sign that says, "Fort Apache." That's pretty appropriate, it feels like it's the Wild West here. One officer just told me it's a war zone, and every night they take fire, people shooting into the police station. They've now posted snipers on the building to shoot back. Every day we put on waders and motor through back streets in shallow-bottom boats. Every street you go down, every corner you turn, another story, another shock and surprise.
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COOPER: So many words have already been spoken about what's happening here. So many words, what more can be said?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The death toll will be in the thousands.
COOPER: You drive down streets and you don't recognize a thing. The water, the waste, New Orleans is buried. You clear trees and debris, you feel on your own, it's a flooded frontier. There's no telling how long the cleanup of New Orleans will take, no telling how many days, how many bodies, how much money it's going to cost. For some, I suppose the story's already gotten routine. Same pictures, same rescues, day after day. If you ask me, that only adds to the horror of it all. I realize today that all week I've been referring to the dead I've seen as bodies and corpses. I should be ashamed of myself. These are human beings, Americans, our neighbors. They had families, they had friends, and now they have nothing. No life, no future, not even dignity in death.
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KING: We're back with Anderson Cooper. The book, "Dispatches from the Edge".
Most reporters report, and they sort of sit on the side of the hill and watch the battle. You got angry. Why? Why did you bring that to the screen?
COOPER: It wasn't a conscious choice. And I don't know -- you know, I believe very much in being objective. I don't believe in wearing my politics on my sleeve. I don't take sides. I know it's a popular thing in cable news these days to take sides. I just don't do it; nor will I ever do it. I think it's much more interesting -- viewers are smart enough to make up their own minds. I don't need -- they don't need, you know, an overpaid, blow-dried anchor like me to be telling them what to think or how to think.
But I do think that there are cases when the least -- the least our representatives can do are answer questions. Not give responses to questions, actually give answers to questions.
And I think when you're in a situation where you're being told one thing and yet you're seeing all around you the other, when you're being told every night on TV by politicians that, you know, this is an unprecedented, unpredictable disaster and we are -- I just want to thank everyone for their -- you know, our elected officials are doing a great job and everything's going smoothly and swimmingly.
And yet, you're seeing bodies laying out in the streets still, days later, 48 hours later, I think clearly there's nothing wrong with confronting people with the facts that you are seeing. And that's what I was trying to do.
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SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: I want to thank Senator Frist and Senator Reid for their extraordinary efforts, Anderson. Tonight, I don't know if you've heard, maybe you all have announced it, but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight, to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating.
COOPER: Excuse me Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that because for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi and to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I've got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset and very angry and very frustrated.
And when they hear politicians slap -- thanking one another, it just -- you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now. Because literally, there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up. Do you get the anger that is out here?
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COOPER: I don't -- I hate the idea -- I hate to think I would ever be rude to anyone. I try never to be rude.
KING: Well, you were angry.
COOPER: I think I was trying to get someone to answer a question.
COOPER: Yes, there was a lot of frustration. Frustration that -- that you know, I'd actually -- I'd been on your program, I remember, a lot during that week. And I remember hearing on -- you know, in my feed politicians thanking one another all week long on your program.
And -- and people were coming up to me in Waveland, Mississippi, saying, "I can't believe" -- they were listening. They could hear it on their car radios. And they'd be: "I can't believe these people are thanking one another. Like, do they not see these bodies? Do they not know that there's no National Guard here? Do they not know what's going on?"
And I was just, you know -- I was -- I was privileged and lucky enough to be in an opportunity to put their questions to -- to some elected officials.
KING: Were you surprised at how much local, national governments missed this?
COOPER: I was surprised. I mean, I worked a while in Africa, and I'm used to people dying and being left out. But not in the United States of America. And it's a cliche by now. I know everyone has said they'd never seen anything like this in America, but it's true. I'd never seen anything like this.
And I always comforted myself when I'd come back from -- you know, from Rwanda and the genocide where I saw just dozens of bodies in fields, and just untold brutality. I'd come back to America and I'd look around New York and I'd think you know, that can't happen here, that here there's a safety net, here there are systems, it's a democracy, we work better.
And then to suddenly see -- you know, I was literally having flashbacks to bodies I'd seen in Rwanda, reminding me of bodies -- you know, bodies I've seen in New Orleans suddenly reminding me of bodies I've seen elsewhere.
KING: Are you worried about this hurricane season?
COOPER: Yes, I am worried about this. I'm worried about New Orleans. I'm worried about ...
KING: They've made some corrections though, didn't they?
COOPER: They say they've made a lot of big corrections, yes. I mean, you know, we've done that. We've continued to cover the story very aggressively. I made a promise and a lot of us -- all of us have seen and made a promise that we were not going to move away from this story. And we have a bureau down there, one of the few networks who do, and we've been covering it repeatedly.
And we've been looking into, you know, New Orleans has a plan, they say. They say that they have a contract with Amtrak. They're going to have trains to get people out, to get the old people out and the infirmed out. You know, you called Amtrak, they actually don't have the contract yet, and oh, that they really don't have enough doctors to provide services on that train.
And then you go talk to Ivor van Heerden at LSU who predicted the first hurricane, and he'll tell you there's not enough buses in that city to get people out. And so I've got a lot of fear. I'm praying and I think we all have to that, you know, New Orleans gets passed by and that we all get spared and the people down there get spared this year.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moment with Anderson Cooper on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
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COOPER: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Charlie, we've got to come back to us. Wait, come here. What's happening?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's only one -- there's only one made it out alive. And I think the name was Randal. The governor's in there and this big in charge CEO of the mine is apologizing.
COOPER: We catch a ride on a chopper, a Black Hawk to Baquba. From the air, it all seems so clear. From a distance, I suppose everything always does. As you walk deeper down into the tunnel, it really slopes down. It gets to about 60 feet deep here. On the Mexico side, it gets as far as 90 feet down, 90 feet deep. They've actually poured concrete here in the steps, which makes it easier for whoever was bringing drugs into the United States to actually climb up into the tunnel.
The crisis in Niger, it's not like any other I cover. It's not instantly apparent. It's not all around you. You have to look close, you have to travel far. You have to understand that not all suffering is ready made for T.V. (END VIDEO CLIP)
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COOPER: Alone on a beach, a sad little boy hurt by the water, beats on a drum. The pain in his heart, too deep to express. The water took his sister and also his brother. He's only 13, but he's had a lifetime of loss.
When the tsunami hit here in the village of Kamburugamuwa, a wall of water washed over this structure. It was a Buddhist temple, and this was a holiday. The place was packed. A monk sat on the altar chanting. The people in the temple had absolutely no warning the water was coming.
On the beach, some kids stay play with the water, but little Matarango (ph) won't touch the tide. Alone on the beach, hurt by the water, a sad little boy throws stones at the sea.
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KING: Let's touch a couple of other bases. You're only 39. What would you like someday to do that you haven't done.
COOPER: I'm still 38. I'm clinging onto -- June 3rd, I turn 39, so I'm clinging.
KING: Do you want to anchor a network news? You're doing the "60 Minutes," you'll be doing -- I mean, do you have a -- still have a goal?
COOPER: You know, I've never had like a career objective and, you know, oh, 10 years from now I want to do this. I love CNN and I love that we have bureaus all over the world. I love that we go out and we find stories and we tell stories every night. And, you know, it sounds like a very basic thing, but the truth is, there's not a lot of other people out there who are doing that.
KING: I don't think there's anybody.
COOPER: Yes, I don't think there is, so.
KING: What do you think of Katie Couric going to channel -- to CBS?
COOPER: I think she's an incredible talent and I think she's going to do great things there. I really do. I think she can do -- I think it will be completely different than what she's been doing, but she's a pro, and I think -- I'm excited to see what they do.
And I don't think they're going to be reinventing the wheel. I think it's going to be small steps at first. And I don't know this. I'm just saying this as a viewer, but I think CBS is a great network.
KING: Do you enjoy recognition?
COOPER: It's strange. It's weird. It's -- you know, I would -- in some ways it's interesting because I've just started to really feel it lately, and it makes living in New York like living in Mayberry, because, like, every morning people on the street are like, hey, Andy, and, you know, I wave back and people are really nice. I ride the subway to work every morning and ...
KING: Has it forced you to change anything?
COOPER: You know, a couple things. I've had a few incidents with, you know, some highly-motivated people, you know, so I don't -- I'm not out there as much as I would like to be. There's been some security things and --
KING: We all get that.
COOPER: Yeah, but it's still strange.
KING: Do you think about your dad and your brother much?
COOPER: Every day -- I think about them all the time.
KING: Think about them watching you?
COOPER: Yeah, I do. I do. I try to -- yeah, I do.
KING: Does your mom watch you all the time?
COOPER: She does. I tried to give her a TiVo; she couldn't figure out how to use it. So she still does the VCR. She literally tapes every night. I went to her apartment recently, and I opened up this closet and she's got hundreds of these VCR tapes. I'm like, "Hey, Mom, you know there's DVD now; they've moved on." But -- yeah, VHS is all she can figure out.
KING: Do you like doing two hours?
COOPER: I do -- it's interesting. There are some nights it -- especially when there's something breaking happening and there's a big story -- it feels very natural. And it's a lot of me, and I'm not -- it's a lot to do, but it's an interesting challenge. I like it.
KING: Is the staff huge? Do you have -- because you seem to be everywhere.
COOPER: It's not a huge staff, but they're incredibly hard- working. They're really -- we've got this amazing group who -- a lot of them have been with me for years now, which is rare in this business, and I'm very, very lucky with the people I have. We have great writers and producers, and the senior staff and -- it's a great group to be with.
KING: Is there great joy in following LARRY KING LIVE every night? What a thrill it must be. COOPER: There's nothing better! There's nothing better! When they said, "Where would you like to be?" I said, "I want to be as close to Larry King as possible, either side, as close as possible. As long as I can interact in some way with the king."
KING: Wonderful book, Anderson.
COOPER: I appreciate it.
KING: Anderson Cooper, the anchor of CNN's ANDERSON COOPER 360, the author of the book, "Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival."
Thanks for joining us, and good night.
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