Mac McClelland’s PTSD Story And The Risks And Costs Of Journalism

Mac McClelland’s account of how she’s dealing with her post-traumatic stress disorder is powerful and important and warrants a close read. For me, some of the toughest things in it to read were on the larger professional context:

I realize now that I was undone. Journalists put themselves in threatening situations all the time, but they rarely talk about the emotional impact. It’s not easy to complain about the difficulties of being around trauma when you’ve chosen to be around trauma for a living, and it certainly isn’t cool. When CBS correspondent Lara Logan went public that she was raped in Egypt five months after I returned from Haiti, most people reacted with the appropriate amount of horror. Some, though, blamed the reporter for putting herself in a risky situation, and for being reckless enough to enter one when she’s so hot. No wonder it’s a rarity for correspondents to discuss their pain, and practically unheard of when it regards sexual harassment or assault. The handbook of the Committee to Protect Journalists didn’t even mention it — until 20 days ago, when the organization published an “addendum on sexual aggression.”

“Why don’t I get some real problems?” I asked her. The shocking lack of sympathy I got from some industry people I talked to about my breakdown was only compounding my concerns that I didn’t deserve to be this distraught. “Editors are going to think I’m a liability now. What kind of fucking pussy cries and pukes about getting almost hurt or having to watch bad things happen to other people?”

“Dude,” she said. “Marines.”

That the CPJ could just…not think to address that sexual assault is a form of harm journalists face in conflict zones or other dangerous situations says pretty much everything about the dominant assumptions about the kind of work women can do in journalism (and an odd myopia about the fact that men can get assaulted, too).


It also puts paid to the idea of journalistic objectivity — as did Greg Marinovich when I interviewed him earlier this year about working as a combat photographer. Maybe at some level, we can ask journalists to be detached, but for the big issues, we need folks who are able to draw conclusions about right and wrong from their reporting, and it’s insane to expect that people won’t be affected by the things they cover — we really need that, in fact. Journalism is a form of bearing witness, and part of supporting journalism is supporting people in going and seeing the things we can’t and bringing back moral testimony.