Sanjay Gupta was in the anchor chair for Anderson again tonight. The big "Breaking News" is the oil spill that threatens the Gulf Coast. Alabama, as well as Louisiana, is now affected. AC360 explored all the angles; wildlife reserves and fisheries in danger, the Pentagon is mobilizing 6,000 national guard troops, and the search for who to blame -- BP? government regulators? -- seems to me there's enough blame to go around. Also covered tonight; a shooting of a Sherrif's Deputy in Arizona with a suspected illegal immigrant invloved; an Arizona Cop that's taking on the new law, filing a lawsuit calling it unconstitutional; and Sanjay talked breast cancer, mammograms and the "Race For The Cure" with four prominent newswomen. "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will." -- Mother Teresa. To me, this quote sums up the vision of Cooper's and Kristoff''s reporting.
While I have enjoyed Dr. Gupta in the anchor chair this week, I've missed Anderson... so tonight I bring you Anderson Cooper, version 2005.
A couple of weeks ago I watched a wonderful documentary on HBO called "Reporter" -- it was like watching an hour and a half edition of CNNi's "Backstory" -- on the reporting of Nicholas Kristoff, a two-time Pulitzer Prize -winning columnist for the New York Times. While the documentary focused on Kristoff's reporting on the Congo, it made me think a lot about Anderson and the work he's done throughout Africa over the years. (I think Kristoff would make a wonderful guest for the "Big 360 Interview" some day. I would love to listen to Cooper and Kristoff discuss their reporting experiences.) The documentary talks about Kristoff''s mission to make known the plight of the people of the Congo by sharing individual stories of those affected. Anderson talks a lot about sharing people's stories as being at the heart of his reporting.
Below are a few excerpt's from Anderson's Book Dispatches From the Edge, A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival; along with some videos I found on his reporting from Maradi, Niger in 2005 -- wish HBO would have been following Mr. Cooper around during this point in his career. If you've never read AC's book, I highly recommend it; it's an interesting read. If you have read it, but it's been a while, it may be time to pick it up again.
"If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will." -- Mother Teresa. To me, this quote sums up the vision of Cooper's and Kristoff''s reporting.
“According to a report by the United Nations, 3.5 million Nigerians are at risk of starvation, many of them children,” the news anchor said, then moved on to something else.
I called CNN to see if I could go. My travel companions were pissed off, but not all that surprised. They were used to my bailing out on them at the last minute.
“Why would you want to go to Niger?” one of them asked when I told him of the change of plans.
“Why wouldn’t you want to go?” I responded.
“Um, because I’m normal,” he said, laughing.
I wished I knew how to explain it to them. It’s as if a window opens, and you realize the world has been re-formed. I wanted to see the starvation. I needed to remind myself of its reality. I worry that if I get too comfortable, to complacent, I’ll lose all feeling, all sensation.
The next day, I was on a plane, on my way. I’d been relieved of the burden of vacation. I was in motion once again, hurtling through space. Nothing was certain, but everything was clear.
It’s hard to see the hunger at first. In Niamey, chauffeur-driven Mercedes glide down potholed streets. Business men and bureaucrats shuttle about, car windows firmly shut. A layer of dust seems to coat everything.
“This isn’t a famine, it’s a sham-ine,” I hear one European reporter mutter in the hotel, concerned that the images he’s gathered aren’t going to be what his bosses back in the newsroom are expecting. That’s how TV works. You know the pictures you want, the pictures you are expected to find. Your bosses will be disappointed if you don’t get them, so you scan the hospital beds, looking for the worst, unable to settle for anything less. Merely hungry isn’t good enough. Merely sick won’t warrant more than a cutaway shot.
The hunger is there, of course – you just have to look close. On the drive from Niamey to Maradi are fields of corn, sorghum, and millet. Crops are planted, but harvest is a long way off, and there’s little food to get families through until then. Adults can live off leaves and grass; kids need nutrients and there are none to be had.
“It’s not so bad,” I say to Charlie Moore, my producer, and as soon as the words come out of my mouth, I wish I could take them back.
“It’s bad enough,” he responds, and of course he’s right.
It’s bad enough.
It’s late July 2005. In a makeshift hospital in Maradi, Niger, dozens of mothers sit with their children, waiting to see if they are malnourished enough to be saved. The hospital is run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), a French relief group that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. They are one of my favorite relief organizations because they fearlessly go to the worst places, and they seem far more efficient than the lumbering UN.
The hospital is a few blocks off Maradi’s main drag. This is the third largest city in Niger, but that’s not saying much. Even the capital, Niamey, is a backwater, and it’s a ten-hour drive away. …
In the intensive care ward of the hospital in Maradi, Niger, a four-year-old boy named Aminu lies on a bed. …. Aminu whimpers softly. His mother sits on the bed slowly waving a fan over him to keep the flies away. …"Aminu came in with severe kwashiorkor,” Dr. Tectonidis tells me, lifting part of the gray blanket off the boy’s tiny body. He cries softly at the sudden exposure, but allows Dr. Tectonidis to examine his blistered flesh.
“Water in the tissues, water around the eyes. And his skin is peeling off, because of a zinc deficiency.”
“He’s getting better very fast,” Dr. Tectonidis says… “I’m sure we’re going to save him, if he makes if through another day or two.”
“You mean he could still die,” I ask, surprised.
“Oh yeah,” he says, handing Aminu a tiny sweet. In an hour he can die if he gets too much bacteria in his blood, despite our antibiotics. But he’s had five candies already, and he drinks all his milk. That’s the best sign.” ….
He holds a cup of milk formula to Aminu’s lips, and the boy drinks it eagerly.
“What a life,” the doctor says, his face just a few inches from Aminu’s. “What a life, eh, bambino?” ...
Here they treat the worst cases first. That’s what TV wants as well. The illest, the greatest in need. It’s a sad selection process that happens in your head.
“That child’s bad, but I think we can find worse,” I say to myself, deciding whose suffering merits time on TV. You tell yourself it’s okay, that your motives are good – at the moment you might even believe it. But later, alone, lying in bed, you go over the day and feel like a fraud. Each child’s story is wothy of telling. There shouldn’t be a sliding scale of death. The weight of it is crushing.
They die, I live. It’s such a thin line to cross. Money makes the difference. If you have it, you can always survive, always find a place to stay, something to eat. For the first few days in Maradi, I’m not even hungry. It’s not just the heat, the dust. I’ve become disgusted with myself. My body fat, my health, my minor aches and pains. I brought with me a bagful of food – cans of tuna and Power Bars – but the thought of eating anything makes me want to throw up. That changes, of course. After a couple of days I forget why I’m depriving myself.
They die, I live. It’s the way of the world, the way it’s always been. I used to think that some good would come of my stories, that someone might be moved to act because of what I’d reported. I’m not sure I believe that anymore. One place improves, another falls apart. The map keeps changing; it’s impossible to keep up. No matter how well I write, how truthful my tales, I can’t do anything to save the lives of the children here, now.
Charlie Moore, my producer, tells me when he gets back from the intensive care ward. Aminu was four. Yesterday he seemed better. Yesterday was a long time ago.
That’s all the nurses said. They don’t know exactly what killed him. They don’t do autopsies here in Maradi. No point. No time. Aminu was starving, but that’s not what finally did him in. He’d been sick for months, hospitalized for the last two weeks. His body was riddled with infections. He might have had malaria; his skin was peeling off.
When Charlie tells me, I’m surprised at how shocked I am. We both knew this could happen; it’s just not what I expected. It seems so unfair. Dr. Tectonidis had been optimistic. Aminu had been eating sweets, drinking his milk formula. He’s made it through the worst of his illness. He was going to be our success story, a bundle of hope to end our report after the death of Habu. We both know what this means. We find our cameraman and head back to the hospital. That’s what we’re here for, after all, to document the death. That’s how it works, isn’t it? Tell stories, get pictures, look out for just such poignant moments. It’s not pretty how poignancy is made. ...
Anderson also wrote an article about his reporting in Niger and Aminu's death for Details magazine in their October 2005 issue. Here's a link to that article, now posted on CNN.com
That's it for me tonight -- I hope you all have a great weekend and remember to tune in to 60 Minutes on Sunday night for Anderson's segment, "Smokes" ~ Wonz.