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April 17, 2009

Journalists Suffer Too

Journalists Soldiers, 9/11 victims, Katrina survivors are no stranger to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but what about the tellers of their tales, the unseen participants in any tragic story?

Breaking News, Breaking Down is a documentary on the silent sufferers behind every story: journalists. In the film, veteran news anchor Mike Walter explores the trauma he experienced after covering 9/11 and the similar anguish faced by other on-the-ground journalists.

The film premieres this Saturday at Filmfest DC.

(Image courtesy of the Washington Times)

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Jason Taylor

Isn't that one for the journalist's priest?

Is the fashion of publically exposing one's emotions a completely good one? It encourages hyperbole in a contest for attention, just to begin with.

There are worse problems. Back during 9-11 I remember talk about people whose children were so upset that they were taken to a shrink-and that that was announced publically. Besides the fact that arguably that is a parents job, isn't the prolliferation of people who need to see shrinks a terrorists desire?

Is it really conducive to survival to have it be popular to publically talk about one's PTSD? It does not make for good discipline in the face of disaster.

Jason Taylor

Didn't most people once know instinctively that PTSD was contagious and therefore it was a good idea not to display it publicly?


I am so busy complaining about media bias that I forget---lots of reporters cover lots of tragedies & it scars them....

Anyone ever hear relay of that famous radio broadcast of the 1930's Hindenburg?

The radio broadcaster covers a special US event - the Hindenburg air ship (Think of an extremely large balloon--with a strapped on bus holding people---but the balloon is filled with explosive hydrogen!).

The ship suddenly explodes into flames...some persons jump from the ship---others jump too late & plunge to their death...the ship crashes into the ground---in flames.

The broadcaster covers this and melts down emotionally as the ship dissolves and people die.

Surely he had a horrible emotional burden to carry!

Jason Taylor

You know, it's funny: I don't ever recall Ernie Pyle talking about his suffering from PTSD. Apparently PTSD in journalists is a newly discovered ill.

Gina Dalfonzo

Jason, I'm not quite sure why this bothers you so, but PTSD is a real illness and there's no shame in having it or talking about it, or anything like it. Ernie Pyle might have been just fine emotionally, but my great-uncle suffered from horrible nightmares for decades after participating in the Normandy invasion. Everyone reacts differently, and some people genuinely need help.

Jason Taylor

What bothers me Gina, is that they do not have enough sense of shame to keep it to those they know. Did that newspaperman just elect me his therapist? There are a lot of misfortunes(some of which would be indelicate to mention) that I wouldn't hold it against someone to have, but would hold it against them to make a display of.

What also annoys me is that public expression of weakness is dangerous when it becomes fashionable. PTSD is as I said, contagious(a fact known by every drill sergeant). It also attracts those seeking for a sign of weakness. Letting one's own fears threaten the group's morale is irresponsible. And letting potential enemies see fear is dangerous. We have had more then enough about sensitivity in the past few years and perhaps it was not wholly bad. But it might be considered that "boys don't cry"-or at least don't cry in public, was not and is not totally irrational. Stress and trauma is something that must be controlable otherwise we will be controlled by it.

Jason Taylor

Also it might be remembered that newspapermen claim to be an elite; the fourth estate guarding the publics "right to know". And in any case they have enough power to be classed as one. If one is to be an elite, one should act like one.

Did that particular fellow think I needed to be told, or anyone else needed to be told that newsmen get scared too? That is not the point. The point is he told me about it, and told everyone else about it. He also told terrorists(as if it needed to be confirmed)that newsmen are a way to metastitize fear so that they are given a hope of controlling whole societies with no more effort then it takes the mob to control a neighborhood. Hopefully that is at least not yet true, but the fact that they might think it true costs lifes.

Rachel Coleman

Jason, I share your distaste for the sensationalistic, self-celebratory brand of confessional pseudo-journalism -- it's the same thing in essence that brought us reality TV. And since I don't watch television, I have no idea what this particular program's focus is.

Yet it's possible that it could be used for good.

Self-revelation can be useful and generous if it is done right, in the correct spirit. When I write personal-essay newspaper columns, I ask myself "how universal is the experience I'm describing -- can others relate?" and "Is this all about me?" The answers determine what I discuss and how I present it. The highest aim would be that I could articulate something others have trouble pinning down in words/thoughts, and thereby direct them to God's truth and salvation.

Over the years, it has been self-revelation via newspaper columns that people say has the greatest impact on their lives. I am continually amazed by the folks who introduce themselves in the grocery store to chat. Then, later, I worry that I failed to clearly communicate how interesting I find THEM to be!

That's just my mid-America experience of such things -- far from Iraq, but perhaps relevant.

Rachel Coleman

When EMTs or police officers experience particularly gruesome scenes on the job, they are often ordered to have counselling whether they think they need it or not -- and that step is usually not publicized. Some recover, some don't, and there is a certain attrition rate among such workers (even less visible responders, like ER nurses) because the trauma is real and it accumulates and wears away at a person.

It makes sense that frontline journalists experience a similar cycle, especially since their job is to OBSERVE. If you're busy trying to save someone's life or pluck her from the sea, you have other things to focus on. If your job is to look, see, and describe, that's a bit different. You become a trauma sponge.

Given the fact that journalists tend to be highly observant types, wired for that kind of work in the first place, the images and memories must go deep -- even if you ARE supposed to "remain neutral" and "be objective."

I'm also thinking about some of the WWII and Viet Nam vets and their families I've met over the years. There's no doubt in my mind PTSD is real, and often dismissed or ignored, causing even more pain to the person suffering and his/her family.

Something about telling and talking aloud helps bring about healing, though of course real healing will require the Holy Spirit.

Jason Taylor

The objection is not to talking about it Rachel; it is to blathering about it to the whole world. I can't help him, neither can you, and that is a matter for those close to him.


Jason, while I completely agree with the points you make, particularly about the journos aiding and abetting the enemy, we have to also take into account that acros the board people now confess in public what was once private. People blog and tweet, for crying out loud! :-) And journalists in particular are paid for such things - bringing the emotion of a situation into the public eye, and uncovering what was once hidden - so this is to be expected.

I've noticed a hardening toward private confession, the "talk to the hand 'cuz the face ain't listenin'" syndrome. There was a time when Gina's great-uncle's fellow vets would have rallied around him; maybe they wouldn't have been as effective as professional therapists, but they'd have tried. To this day my wife's nursing colleagues swap stories, and I think it's a way of dealing with the trauma that Rachel so well described, by replaying the experience to someone who can not merely sympathize, but actually empathize.

Perhaps Christians should play a stronger role in providing a way for people to "process" their trauma. Oh, yes, there are those who try to use this to create a co-dependent relationship or other such dysfunctionalities; I've experienced those myself. But we should find a way to help the sincere to retain their moorings, and this can't be shuffled off to pastors, priests, or professional counselors - it needs to be distributed amongst all of us, simply due to the workload. Heh - might drive us to prayer.

Jason Taylor

And the question Rachel is not whether PTSD is real but whether it should be displayed.

Jason Taylor

Maybe that is the problem; it is a mid-America experience of things. It is not a frontier experience of things and I am habituated by history into thinking the way(say) a wagon train captain would. It is true, that in an environment in which everyone was civilized("Middle America") such things cause little harm. In times of stress they are dangerous to others.

Rachel Coleman

Jason, that's a good point; EMTs, for example, don't have time to "be upset" about what they are doing on the job, because they *have a job to do.* Their experience would fall more towards the pioneer end of the spectrum, whereas a journalist's point of view is anchored more in the observer's spot.

LeeQuod is right that the body of Christ must take on the task of helping the traumatized person look to God for healing/catharsis/closure (pick your label). Without divine intervention, all this "intervention" and venting is just what Jason said -- blather.

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