Wednesday , 3 July 2024
No quieren (They do not want to) by Francisco Goya (1746–1828) depicts an elderly woman wielding a knife in defense of a girl being assaulted by a soldier

Listen: The Mental Impact of War Reporting


In this podcast produced by Sheeva Azma, Chalin Askew interviews former war journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall about his coping mechanisms with dealing with PTSD acquired while working in Iraq. Marshall is a Scottish national who ran amiss of the Thai government for lèse-majesté among other things. Max Blumenthal from the Gray Zone has accused Reuters along with the National Endowment for Democracy as being CIA cutouts.


Manufacturing consent was a concept created by Alex Carey, an Australian social psychologist. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky dedicated their book by the same title to Mr. Carey. Manufacturing consent means being a mouthpiece for the government and the main feature is the worthy victim. Media exaggerates stories of select victims while burying the stories that don’t fit the narrative. One prominent example given in the book is the framing around the rise of Pol Pot.


The problem with mindfulness as an orientalist panacea for PTSD is that it opens one up to dark nights. Dark nights are essentially the opposite of a religious experience. The idea of “dark nights” originates from a poem by 16th-century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. The poem is a rejoicing in the dawn after a dark night of the soul. Anyone who has experienced ego death from hallucinogens can relate. My point is that these experiences are necessary. Some people would gladly take a pill to get rid of their PTSD, if that was an option. I am not one of those people. I think people have to work through their trauma by reconciling with the initiating event.


Vicarious PTSD is by far the most common at this point. This is the kind of PTSD we get by being infected with stories from people that are around us regularly. This is why it’s not politically appropriate to use the term “military brats” anymore. We know that people get PTSD from operating drones or moderating graphic videos. According to the U.S. Gallup, and census data published Sept. 20 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “Nearly one-half of all Black Americans reported feeling angry or sad in the wake of Floyd’s death, and nearly one million more Black Americans screened positive for depression…”

War journalists are intermediaries in a cycle of passing trauma on from war zones directly to consumers of news, reporting to an increasingly anxious and traumatized news audience. Central to this process of newsgathering, reporting, and consumption is the idea of “vicarious trauma,” which is trauma that may not be experienced directly but that can cause anxiety and even PTSD. Amidst 2+ ongoing wars, there’s often not too much good news on TV, and amidst it all, we must reflect on what that’s doing to our brains, as well as the brains of people regularly bringing us war news.

War journalists’ PTSD rates match those of combat veterans, even though they are not directly involved in combat (though they can be targets of violence in warzones). Working with The Delve Podcast, I wrote and researched a podcast episode called “The Mental Impacts of War” exploring this subject. The Delve’s host, Chalin Askew, spoke with Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who served as Reuters Bureau Chief in Iraq during the violent insurgency in 2003 and was diagnosed with PTSD after reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other places devastated by conflict. Though Marshall now goes by the moniker of “Zen Journalist,” he took a long path of self-discovery and recovery to get to that point, and was indelibly changed by his experiences as a wartime journalist in many ways. In the podcast, he states that he wondered whether his war reporting made a difference in bringing justice to light in the war, and says he now prefers what he calls “activism journalism.”

By the way, a community of practice is slowly emerging to study PTSD in journalism, including Columbia’s DART Center and the Journalism Education and Trauma Research Group. I am also conducting research as a Seeds of Science Research Fellow on PTSD and what it looks like in war journalists. I would love to see the neuroscience of trauma in journalism grow into an established community of practice with journalists, neuroscientists, and others involved.

 Sheeva Azma, multimedia science journalist and independent neuroscience researcher

About karololesiak

Karol Olesiak is a poet, writer, and activist. He is a graduate of Eugene Lang Liberal Arts College at The New School and an MFA from The University of San Francisco. As a Navy sailor, he commissioned the USS Ronald Reagan, navigated the straits of Magellan, and served in the Persian Gulf. In 2011 Karol headlined The Bowery Poetry Club in New York. That same year he became a staunch supporter of The Occupy Wall Street Movement and became entrenched in the Occupy network of affinity groups. Karol was one of the founders of www.soldiersforthecause.org. He became an antiwar activist in 2010 and has written many political essays. He has been translated into Spanish. Karol's poetry has been incorporated into cinematography and sound art.

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