Last night TV viewers had an unusual choice. By flipping between two networks' primetime news magazine shows, they got to see that absolute worst and best of America. While NBC's Rock Center featured former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky suggesting that kids might have made up their abuse claims, ABC's 20/20 had the first interview with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly since a bullet went through her head in January. The Giffords interview should have been required DVR viewing after that skin-crawling chat with Sandusky, a palate cleanser and soul-lifter if there ever was one.
Giffords 20/20 appearance was still a tear-jerker from minute one, but in an entirely different way. For months we saw nothing but a handful of photos of Giffords' hand or Kelly standing next to her hosptial bed, but the first half hour showed footage of Giffords recovery from just days after the January 8 shooting. Conveniently for Diane Sawyer, Kelly decided to record Giffords' daily achievements, because he was confident that she'd pull through and want to know what the process was like.
In the earliest videos from just two and a half weeks after the shooting, Giffords sits in bed with a shaved head and swollen face and stares at Kelly blankly. He remains unbelievably cheery and patient as he urges his wife to try tiny movements like smiling and flipping his wedding band off her finger. Most of the other footage focuses on Giffords learning to communicate again with the help of her therapists. They have to teach her how to sigh, nod, and pucker her lips for a kiss. It was reported that she had particular difficulty with speech, but now we see what it took for her to learn to talk again. It's clear that Giffords is totally present inside, but she gets frustrated in sessions with her therapist as she struggles to find the right words. For example, for weeks she said "spoon" for "chair," "cheeseburger" for "lamb," and "chicken" for many different words.
Kelly says that when she could string more words together, Giffords told him "I've been beaten." "So, I would say, ‘Gabby, you have not been beaten,'" he says. "‘You've just been beat up. And you're going to get through this, and you're going to recover and you're going to come back stronger than ever.'"
Giffords is still having trouble putting together more than one sentence at a time, but her interview with Sawyer is unbelievable. It seemed likely that she wouldn't make it, let alone be herself again, yet less than a year after the shooting she's joking with her husband about disliking football and singing "Tomorrow" from Annie with her mom. With short phrases, Giffords expresses that she's seen the disturbing photos of Jared Loughner, but isn't angry about what happened to her. Kelly says, "If he had received some treatment, this probably never would have happened."
A few months ago the questions about whether Giffords could ever return to Congress seemed crass and premature, but less so now — and considering how far she's come in less than a year, who knows where she'll be by the time she has to declare her intention to run in May? When Sawyer asks how Giffords feels about going back to politics, she says "better," but has trouble expressing what she means. Sawyer asks if she means that she wants to go back to Congress if she gets well enough, and Giffords replies, "Yes, yes, yes." It may be too much to hope for, but at this point we'd love to vote for Giffords for Congress, president, Miss America, American Idol, or whatever she wants to run for.