CNN anchor says that as mass shootings happen again and again, the unthinkable becomes routine
Brooke Baldwin: Survivors of the victims become members of the club no one wants to join
Editor’s Note: Brooke Baldwin anchors the 2-4 p.m. edition of CNN Newsroom. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
San Bernardino, California.
Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Santa Monica, California.
I know it’s my job as a journalist. But in situations like these, I’m getting sick of speaking the words “active shooter situation.” I’ve been covering too many of them.
I happen to be sitting in the anchor chair during two crucial hours of the day – when kids are in school, when people are at work, when mad killers tend to strike. So many of these shootings break while I’m on the air. So that means it’s my job (oftentimes on very little information at first) to go live for the next two hours. Juggling guests. Listening to details from police news conferences. Speaking with eyewitness on the phone.
And you know something? I’ve become far too familiar with this. It’s sadly become a routine.
It starts with a few reports coming into CNN. Often I’m already on air and unaware of what’s brewing behind the scenes. Blissfully ignorant. Full steam ahead on a two-hour show my team and I spent the day preparing. That is until CNN confirms the reports and then I hear that dreaded voice in my ear.
San Bernardino: Full coverage
That voice is almost always that of my trusted executive producer Eric Hall. He’s already anticipated my reaction to what he’s about to tell me. He knows – better than anyone – how sick of these stories I’ve gotten. But he has to do his job. And so do I. So, in a calm, strong voice, Eric tells me some version of this: “Brooke, there’s been a shooting. We don’t know much. It happened in X city. No word on injuries or dead. We’re working to get someone on with you… in the meantime, I need you to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world … and go.”
And just like that, it’s my job to remain calm even though – deep down – just like you, I am furious. Furious for the innocent victims who are being targeted. Furious this has happened again. Furious that nothing seems to be stopping it.
And then just like that – the teleprompter goes blank. You see, shootings are never scripted. No breaking news ever is. Even though I know exactly how the unwritten script is going to go next: behind the scenes my team is scrambling to get a law enforcement analyst up live with me to explain (yet again) what’s happening at the shooting scene as this is all unfolding.
Secure the perimeter, get bystanders to safety, locate the shooter… or shooters. And then I find myself pivoting back and forth between guests, eyewitnesses, repeating the pieces of information police are releasing publicly and parsing their words: “heavily armed”; “bodies”; “suspicious package”; “they.”
Media sites always spotlight what time each channel broke the news. Officials spell their first and last names at news conferences. Hospitals start to alert how many patients they’re taking in. Schools go on lockdown. But it’s always too early to know the answer to the most important question – the question that nags at me as I go home at night: Why?
I know we journalists have a reputation for being cynics. We do. It’s our job to question – everything. But I will also share this: I’ll never forget coming home after covering Sandy Hook. Seeing the faces of family members. The firefighters who could never unsee the unthinkable. Those tiny caskets. I came home, sat in my dark apartment because I didn’t even bother to turn the lights on, and wept.
I remember watching the sun set out my window, and all I could think about was those children and adults who would never see the sun set again. I’m sure I wasn’t the only journalist choking back tears.
Two months ago I sat in a room with The Loneliest Club, 40 people who have either lost loved ones to gun violence or are survivors themselves. I can’t help but think, after another mass shooting, their club will grow. Next time I interview them, that room will include families who are searching for answers in San Bernardino right now. A club, when they awoke Wednesday morning, they never imagined they’d join.
When I was in the anchor chair Wednesday as the shootings in San Bernardino broke, I started our coverage with four little words: “Here we go again.” The BBC put it differently: “Just another day in the United States of America.”