“It’s hard to talk about.”
Dr. Sanjay Gupta gives that as his first thought about helping CNN cover the aftermath of Friday’s (Dec. 14) shootings in Newtown, Conn., that resulted in 28 deaths … including those of 20 young students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
As with many reporters during the past week, the cable news network’s chief medical correspondent has been challenged to stay professional while feeling the emotion of the situation, particularly as a parent of three young daughters himself.
“People say that when you have kids, it’s tougher,” Gupta tells Zap2it of being on the story, “and I think that’s true, but I don’t think it’s just that. Even if you just know kids, what in their world context could have made these kids think that what was about to happen could happen?
“I’m not sure it would have been better for them to be more fearful, but when you think about it, it’s so heartbreaking. They were just standing there, not knowing what to do, then [the shooter fired]. That’s a really tough thing to come to terms with.
Gupta adds, “I’ve been asked, ‘Do you see your own kids when you look at those kids?,” and it’s not that. That’s the easy thing to say, but they’re all our kids. That’s the more poignant point, and it’s painful.
“Most of the colleagues I was with, like Anderson [Cooper] and Soledad [O’Brien], we’ve all been in some situations that have been really tough — but I think we all felt this was harder. With natural disasters, as tragic as they are, no one person is out there specifically trying to harm you.”
Now back at his Atlanta base, Gupta sensed “a lot of mutual support” as he worked with CNN peers in Newtown. “It also came at odd times sometimes,” he says. “You’d be totally fine, then all of a sudden, you were just overcome. Sometimes it would happen right before you did a live shot; it’s important to check your feelings when you’re doing this, but none of us are robots.”
On the air, Gupta frequently was asked to analyze the shooter’s motives. “It’s very empowering, I think, for people to have some sort of answer,” he reasons, “and it’s completely understandable to ask the question. Not to trivialize or dismiss it in any way, but it also was important to say, ‘Would any explanation be good enough?’ And we may just never know. As unsatisfactory as that’s going to seem, that’s the truth.”
As the year ends, Gupta is looking ahead to a 2013 involving his first foray into television drama: TNT’s series version of his medical-fiction best seller “Monday Mornings,” made in association with Emmy-winning producer David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal”) and premiering Monday, Feb. 4. It takes Gupta into a different form of media, but recent days have expanded his thoughts about the area he knows best.
“Doing an interview with somebody, with cameras and all, it’s not exactly a fair situation,” he reflects. “It’s intimidating, so we didn’t go around chasing people [in Newtown], but I’ve also known for a fact since 9/11 that sometimes, people want to talk. And I think that, in psychological terms, they do it for two reasons.
“It’s therapeutic to some extent to simply talk about their loved one or about the situation that happened. And the other part is that sometimes, they honor the person, just to be able to talk about them on television that way.”