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Interview with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Aired February 11, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET



BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's a fine line between telling the story and being part of the story.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the hallways where they're taking care of a lot of the patients with the swine flu.

ANDERSON: And perhaps no one works that balance more than CNN's medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: I'm going to be your doctor and I'm going to be your coach, as well.

ANDERSON: A practicing neurosurgeon, Dr. Gupta also has his own CNN medical show and frequently reports on top stories. In Afghanistan, he helped save lives in the battlefield.

GUPTA: Look at the smile there.

ANDERSON: And he was one of the first on the scene reporting during the H1N1 epidemic in Mexico.

GUPTA: They're very concerned about crowds gathering in the wake of the swine flu.

ANDERSON: Most recently, he's been leading the reporting out of Haiti, where he also famously cared for a 15-day-old baby with a head injury.

GUPTA: She's moving both of her arms. That's a good sign.

ANDERSON: This and at a moment when journalists have stepped in helped stir debate about reporter involvement in the field.

Doctor, reporter and news maker -- this man is all three.

Sanjay Gupta is our Connector of the Day.


ANDERSON: And Sanjay joined us from Haiti earlier on today. And I started by raising that controversy with him, about the line between telling the story and becoming part of the story.

This is what he told me.


GUPTA: You know, I -- I think it's a little bit of a -- of an issue that's been raised just so people can talk about it, frankly. I think anybody who is writing about this and then raising these concerns should probably come down here and see for themselves before writing those sorts of articles.

You know, as a doctor, I think that it's pretty clear for me that I've been a physician a lot longer than I have been a journalist. And I've always said that I'm going to be a doctor first, certainly. And there -- there's really no -- no sort of confusion in my mind about that.

Taking it a step further, I think anybody who puts a press badge on does not automatically have a bar to their humanity.

I mean if you can help somebody, wouldn't you rather do that?

And I think -- I think anybody, even if you're not a physician, if you can somehow get in there and help somebody, it's morally and medically absolutely the right thing to do.

So I -- I read the criticism. I understand that this has been raised. I understand that people question whether or not it raises your journ -- you know, somehow compromises your journalistic objectivity. I -- I just don't buy that. I don't know how the narrative would play out if somebody didn't help versus helping.

How does that journalize -- how does that compromise one's objectivity?

I -- I just don't -- I don't get that.

ANDERSON: All right, let's get to some viewer questions, Sanjay.

Ruan asks: "Do you know what happened to that -- the tiny baby that you treated with the head we need in the first couple of days of the earthquake? And did she get the required medical supplies? Did she make it?"

GUPTA: What we heard was that the antibiotics were eventually available for -- for the child. We -- we -- you know, it's very hard to get any kind of follow-up here in Haiti. I mean, literally, people are walking through the streets trying to get help for themselves, their loved ones and going to anyone that they can find who might be able to provide assistance.

So, you know, if you can even see behind me here, it's not like people have homes, let alone phones. So the -- the follow-up is difficult.

But the message, I think, for -- for most people who are providing care is you have to give the definitive care at the time, because you're probably not going to see that patient again. But we did hear that she was doing fine.

ANDERSON: Good stuff.

This is the viewers' part of the show, of course. And Keira asks: "Do you compartmentalize all the emotions that are sure to come up when -- when covering a disaster like Haiti? And how do you decompress after a story or, indeed, after surgery?"

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting, when you think about trying to, you know, block off various thoughts in your mind. You know, I think that you do try and do that because you wouldn't be able to probably continue working at the same level if you didn't.

Having said that, Keira, you know, you don't want to forget everything. You don't want to somehow not let yourself be impacted by what's happened here, because I think that that is certainly a -- a part of the story, as well, and -- and it allows you to -- to take in all your observations and present them in a way that the viewer can really get a picture of what's happening here.

ANDERSON: Peter: "Has this story in Haiti moved you more than anything you've done before in television or in surgery?," he asks.

GUPTA: For me personally, maybe because I'm a doctor as well as a journalist, this has been, I think, personally impactful. Look, you know, I'm -- I'm also a dad. I have three kids of my own. When you walk around Port-au-Prince, I think you see your own family and your children in the eyes of the people that you -- you walk around and see here.

Yes, it -- it's deeply impactful and, you know, again, you don't want to completely block out some of those feelings, some of those emotions, although you do have to do that to some extent because you want to continue working.

But I -- I can't think of something that has had this sort of impact in the -- I mean, in my life, probably, professionally or personally perhaps ever.


ANDERSON: Your Connector of the Day today, Sanjay Gupta, CNN's own.