Emmy-winning journalist and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta always had a gift for telling stories.
And on Tuesday night, he stood before 800 people as this spring’s SPEC Connaissance speaker doing just that.
A medical journalist, Gupta shared his experiences reporting from remote troubled areas.
He told several stories from his coverage of the medical aspect of war and natural disasters, including the Iraq war, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and hurricane Katrina.
He also spoke of stories that don’t get told, ranging from intimate interactions not caught on screen to larger stories mainstream media just doesn’t seem to pick up.
After the 2006 tsunami, Gupta visited a town left barely standing in Sri Lanka. He was sitting, waiting to film a live shot when he noticed a mother and her child surrounded by the rubble. Before he knew it, the child had gotten up and approached him with crackers. They were giving up what little they had, Gupta said, and it touched him.
In another situation, Gupta had reported on a predicted famine in Somalia that took the lives of thousands of children.
And although his coverage brought some visibility to the issue, the fact that it barely made international headlines puzzled and saddened him.
However, Gupta attributed part of the responsibility to viewers. Networks cannot “broadcast to a viewerless audience,” he said. If people don’t want to hear certain stories, networks won’t cover them.
Gupta completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and received his medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School. He joined CNN in 2001.
On balancing journalism and medicine, he said the two fields often overlap: they share a goal of educating people. “If you lose credibility, you lose everything,” he said of both fields, noting that they rely on maintaining credibility and understanding one’s audience.
But, Gupta said, “I am a doctor first.” He recalled the two fields conflicting during his coverage of the Iraq war, when he performed unexpected brain surgery on a wounded soldier using primitive tools. Although he was criticized for losing objectivity, he believes he did the right thing. Gupta visited the recovered soldier and his family later on.
He also voiced a clear stance on the current health care debate. “It is wrong that in this country people are denied basic health care,” he said. Alluding to the current focus of the debate, he said that a “healthier America isn’t just about economics.”
“He seems like a very grounded person to have his kind of work experience and have time to appreciate the opportunities he has been given and genuinely convey it to the public,” said College senior Neha Vijayvargiya .
College senior Shivani Parikh, who was drawn to the event by her interest in public policy, was pleased with the event and appreciated Gupta’s “ability to convey complex health policy in an understandable form to the public.”
SPEC was very impressed not only with audience turnout but also with his message and connection with the students, said College junior and SPEC secretary Josh Oppenheimer.
Despite all he has seen, Gupta feels liberated telling such stories. He added that having traveled to every continent and almost 100 countries has reassured him. “People are inherently compassionate,” he said.
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