On the Circuit with CableWorld editor Seth Arenstein NEW YORK — If NAMIC attendees heard nothing else this week, the speeches of Mariane Pearl and Anderson Cooper would have been enough to justify the trip. [More about Ms. Pearl’s speech in a subsequent blog.]

While you could quibble with Anderson Cooper’s polish and bravado as he accepted the Mickey Leland Humanitarian Achievement Award from NAMIC this afternoon, there’s no denying his speech was memorable, and loaded with the right questions and observations.

The observations started at the beginning, when he said it felt awkward to be accepting the honor. “I didn’t grow up wanting to be an anchor,” he said. “I’m skeptical of kids who tell me they want to. I’m also skeptical of kids who tell me they want to be politicians. I think they should be a real person before they become a fake one.”

And why, Cooper asked, are we still fighting the late Rep. Leland’s (D-TX) causes, like racial discrimination and urban poverty and violence? “Frankly, it’s embarrassing.” And why are so few television shows portraying realistic African-American characters, Cooper asked, noting Rep. Leland’s crusade on that issue. Leland died some 15 years ago, on a humanitarian mission to Africa.

To close, Cooper recounted several emotional stories, mostly from Africa. Being in Rwanda, he said, “made me realize we are capable of doing anything, including some horrific things.”

Seeing three children die awful deaths due to starvation in a hospital in Niger was a raw tale told without punches. Perhaps his best was his recalling of the plight of Ethel Freeman, the 91-year-old who was carried to the Superdome right after Katrina, only to die in a corner of the stadium. Ms. Freeman’s body then sat there for days, with a blanket over her head. “There’s no monument to her…you can walk by that spot and never know she died there,” Cooper said.

But, sadly, “I’m not sure my stories make a difference,” he said. “I can’t speak for” the poor and the forgotten, he said, but he believes it’s his duty to tell their stories nevertheless. Amen.  • More commentary from Seth Arenstein >

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