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Wonk 360: Anderson Cooper Reports the Whole Story

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Anderson Cooper, 2013 WONK of the Year

American University is gearing up for its second annual Wonk of the Year award celebration. This year’s honoree is CNN anchor and journalist Anderson Cooper, who will receive the Wonk of the Year award and speak at AU’s Bender Arena Saturday, October 19th at 8:15 p.m. The student-run Kennedy Political Union (KPU) will host the event, and a university-KPU partnership will present the award.

Cooper, who hosts CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360⁰, is expected to give brief remarks before conducting an open Q&A session with AU students and a moderator. Students will also be able to submit questions via Facebook, Twitter, or email at

AU’s Wonk of the Year award is given to an individual with intelligence, expertise and passion who uses these attributes to enact meaningful change. The wonk campaign was launched in 2010 and is built around core AU community principles: knowledge, passion, focus, and citizen engagement. The wonk campaign permeates campus, from t-shirts to admissions tours and buses, and is the focus of advertising in Nationals Park, The Washington Post, and Metro.

Chandler Thornton, director of KPU, believes Cooper exemplifies the values of AU’s wonks. “Anderson is a true innovator in the field of broadcast journalism,” he says. “And we also thought he was someone who really tries to uncover all angles of a story.” In addition, Thornton spoke of a desire to diversify the image of the wonk campaign. “Many people have a perception that wonks are more involved in public policy. We wanted to expand that perception to include experts in other fields, such as media and journalism,” he explains.

School of Communication dean Jeffrey Rutenbeck also applauded the selection of Cooper: “His sharp analytical approach, his passion for accountability, and his wide range of engagements, including presidential debate moderator and best-selling author, make him an ideal choice.”

Cooper is one of CNN’s megastars and has extensively covered the conflicts in Egypt and Syria, the NSA surveillance programs, the Sandy Hook shooting massacre, and the Boston Marathon bombings. He garnered widespread praise for his emotional, hard-hitting reporting on Hurricane Katrina, which helped CNN win a Peabody Award. He’s also won eight Emmy Awards, including two for his coverage of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In addition, he is a regular correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes. Cooper, the son of prominent fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University and studied Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi. Cooper has also battled for charity on several episodes of celebrity Jeopardy!

Last year, former President Bill Clinton was named the inaugural Wonk of the Year. Clinton energized the crowd with his trademark folksy humor and erudition. “The biggest constraints on building the world you want are in our minds and hearts and in our imaginations,” he told the audience.

This year, the presentation of the Wonk of the Year was purposely scheduled during AU’s All-American Weekend, when parents and alumni will be in town.

KPU is a nonpartisan, student organization created in 1968. KPU’s founding was inspired in part by President John F. Kennedy’s seminal 1963 American University commencement speech calling for a nuclear test ban treaty.

Thornton sees genuine student excitement about the Cooper wonk event. “We have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback on campus for the selection of Anderson Cooper. He is an individual who many students connect with for a variety of reasons, and he is especially popular with our student generation.”