Norah O'Donnell: The Las Vegas Shooting Is "Unlike Any Other Story I've Ever Covered"

Photo: Courtesy of Miles Doran.
In her career as a journalist, CBS This Morning co-anchor Norah O'Donnell has covered Hurricane Harvey, terror attacks (such as those in Boston and San Bernardino), and quite a few presidential campaigns. But O'Donnell tells Refinery29 that the scope of last Sunday's Las Vegas shooting, in which 58 people were killed and over 500 wounded at a country-music festival, boggled even her mind.
Almost all of the victims have been publicly confirmed, and new details about Stephen Paddock are continuing to emerge. Last night, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told O'Donnell that the gunman had cameras inside and outside his hotel room at Mandalay Bay, along with firearms. This morning, an interview went live with Kristin Babik, who was shot in the back and nearly became paralyzed. Babik was relieved to know that she will be able to graduate law school this May, after which she plans to become a criminal prosecutor.
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What has your experience covering this shooting been like so far?
"We woke up early Monday morning to the news that there had been a mass shooting in Las Vegas, and we knew that it was bad... Of course as a journalist, you know in the back of your mind that early reports don't fully comprehend the scope of a massacre. Sadly that turned out to be true, as the death toll continued to grow at every news conference and every update.
"I arrived here last night... By the time we landed, the death toll had climbed to 59 dead and more than 500 injured. The scope of that is so mind-boggling... It's like nothing I've ever been a part of. And I've covered tragedies, I've covered mass shootings before. And the idea, too, that the gunman would inflict so much damage from a hotel room, from several hundred yards, on the 32nd floor, is especially bone-chilling for anybody who watched the coverage, and I'm sure law enforcement, too. Because, the big question is how do you guard against this and secure large venues like this when someone can carry out an assault from high above?"
You've reported on some remarkable stories so far, like that of Taylor Winston, the 29-year-old Iraq veteran who stole a truck to transport dozens of people to the hospital. Why do you think it's important to tell these stories, and how do you find them when you're on the ground reporting?
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"In trying to report out the details of a very evil act of a very evil man, you also find these stories of remarkable humanity and kindness. There are people who choose not to run away from gunshots, but to stay and help those who are injured. Those heroic acts deserve our storytelling because they're what makes America so unique and so great.
"Even before I got on the ground, there are people from our L.A. bureau, people who are able to get here directly from New York, booking teams. The whole weight of the CBS News organization is behind this news and behind what we're trying to uncover.
"And it's not just finding these people, too...people are still very traumatized. A lot of times we find the people, but they're still too scared to talk or too injured, and so there's a process in comforting people and making sure that they're comfortable telling their story.
"Taylor — boy, what a story that is... When I'm feeling a great deal of anxiety and sadness covering a story like this, I try to redirect my thoughts to the really remarkable people who are part of this community."
After the Newtown shooting in 2012, there was a movement to propose gun laws at both the state and federal level. Do you expect gun-control legislation to be in the news more in the aftermath of this attack?
"[People are] essentially knocking on the door of our organization, saying, what else can we find out about, one, the type of gun that he used, two, what if these types of assault rifles had been banned or illegal had the federal assault weapons ban [which expired in 2004] been reauthorized?
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"One of the policy discussions that's going to come about is: Is there a legislative remedy that there could be compromise on that would limit the types of high-powered assault weapons...or limit the size of the magazines? This massacre has brought attention to where Congress is on gun rights and gun control, and I think it's always a good thing when members of the press and voters know what's being debated in Congress. The more we know, the smarter voters we are."
It's not easy to cover a horrific event like this. What are some tactics you use to cope emotionally?
"I look at these stories and every victim I meet, and I try to think of them as a member of my own family. And I think that that empathy is important in understanding, and at the heart of journalism and human experience is understanding...
"It's hard not to be affected... It's been a tough month-and-a-half, between three hurricanes and the shooting and...I just reported the Rep. Steve Scalise story...[the Louisiana Republican who was wounded by a gunman at a congressional baseball practice.] It was almost a massacre on that baseball field had it not been for the U.S. Capitol Police. Let's just say, my stomach has not been in the best of shape for the past six weeks. But this is what we do, we tell these stories."
How has covering this attack been different from covering other terrorist attacks and mass shootings?
"You know, this is unlike any other story I've ever covered. Just the size and scope of it is so hard to imagine... Every single time, you think...What's wrong with this individual? Why is he so filled with hate? Why is he able to then find and purchase the type of weapons cache that allows him to carry out this monstrous evil? Every time, it's just upsetting and difficult to comprehend.
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"I also walk away with awe at the job our law enforcement do and that doctors and nurses do... I interviewed the head of the main trauma center here in Las Vegas — they took over 100 patients. I mean, can you imagine what that emergency room and trauma center looked like? I think this is why it's our job to tell those stories: 99% of people are hardworking and terrific and care deeply about one another."
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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