CNN's Post-Heroic PhaseS

Two days ago, CNN's Haiti coverage reached a strange climax, as Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper morphed into a team of life-saving reporters/heroes. Tonight, Gupta and Cooper were just a couple of journalists who have maybe seen too much.

On Monday, the two were at the center of CNN's coverage: Gupta operating on a girl and Cooper rescuing an injured boy from looters were major stories in themselves. But the reporting tonight—eight days after the earthquake hit—focused mainly on the lack of supplies, medical and otherwise, that could make the aftermath as deadly as the disaster itself. Cooper toured an ill-equipped medical facility and a destroyed school where scores of students and their teachers died; he points out a skull in one shot. Meanwhile, Gupta was dispatched to a clinic run by a pair of twin surgeons who still aren't receiving any of the much-lauded international aid.

Earlier pictures—violent looters, Gupta's surgery, a desperate dig for a trapped woman—were urgent and full of action. Tonight's scenes, though, suggested a country that has come to rest on a new baseline of horror and deprivation. People huddled under makeshift shelters, crowds clung to boats in the hopes of escaping Port-au-Prince, elderly patients languished in the sun outside of a collapsed senior home.

And in their on-screen chats, Gupta and Cooper seemed to be resigned to the fact that the suffering around them was of a magnitude greater than anything even two do-gooder journalists could hope to address.

Gupta might as well have been referring to his own on-air neurosurgery from Monday when he says:

It's one of those things where you don't want to not try, because that's the instinct, to try to jump in and help. But I think these doctors are fully cognizant that without any follow-up care, with out any kind of resources to stabilize these patients afterward it's a little bit fruitless, and I think that's an extremely frustrating thing.

The change in tone was more noticeable in Cooper. Two days ago, he raged against international bureaucracy that was keeping aid from reaching Haitians. His daring rescue of a young boy was fitting action to back up his almost scornful declaration that aid workers need to just "roll up their sleeves" and get to it. But he was just a journalist tonight, urging medical personnel to come to Haiti and reflecting on the limits of his own role as a reporter:

And we all know what's going to happen in a week, in two weeks... people are going to start losing interest in this as a story. They're going to stop watching it. It's going to stop getting the coverage it's been getting, and the people who are here are going to remain here...

A few minutes later, Cooper threw to Wolf Blitzer in Washington D.C., where a panel dissected the Massachusetts Senate race for ten minutes.