Driving along a New Orleans road, Anderson Cooper estimated that this was his 30th trip to the city since Hurricane Katrina hit five years ago. The catastrophe was a formative event for many in the media, and Cooper's impassioned, outraged reporting about the government's mishandling of the crisis shot him to greater prominence than ever before. Since then, the CNN anchor has kept his focus on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He spent eight straight weeks in the region during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Now, with the fifth anniversary of Katrina coming on Sunday, Cooper has returned. He is broadcasting from New Orleans through Friday and, in an interview with the Huffington Post, he said he intends to stay through the weekend, when the actual date of the storm will be remembered.
In the interview, Cooper said he had just come from a charter school--a symbol of the city's massive, controversial changes to its education system--where he'd interviewed students about their lives. He said the education changes were just one sign of the transformation of the city, and compared that change to the growth of a member of your family.
"Suddenly you realize they've grown up," he said.
Similarly, Cooper said he's noticed just how much is different about the city.
"Finally, a lot of the money that's been promised has been delivered on," he said. "The convention business is back, restaurants are back. There's kind of a new life...and a grassroots movement here as well, which is exciting."
Even with all of those positive signs, he said, many problems remain, especially in places such as the Lower Ninth Ward.
"There's only one school [there], where there used to be five," he said. "There's not a lot of new stuff growing other than weeds."
Cooper said his ties to New Orleans go a long way back; he used to go to the city with his father when he was young. He called it "the most interesting and unique city in the United States. It's always revealing different things to you."
Asked if he thinks other media outlets have been as steadfast in their commitment to the story of New Orleans, Cooper demurred, saying that he thinks any coverage is good coverage.
"I think it's understandable that people have come for a big anniversary," he said. "I think that New Orleans is happy for the attention, it's happy for people to come."
He also declined to speculate about whether the media's pledge to focus more on stories of race and poverty in the wake of the hurricane had been followed through in the past five years.
"I can only speak to promises I made, and for me the promise was to keep coming here," he said. "That was literally a promise I made on the air in the wake of Katrina, and luckily I've been able to do that."
In more trivial news, Cooper also commented on the widely circulated offer that came from a hair company, which promised him $1 million if he used their product, which they claimed would get rid of his trademark gray hair.
"The only thing stupider than that product is the amount of coverage that this public relations effort has gotten," he said. "Even if there was such a product, which I have no knowledge of, I have no interest in changing my hair color."