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On September 11, 2001, the worst news brought out the best of American and world journalism. But one year later, much of the media coverage-especially in broadcast documentaries-descended to its mentality of more is better, without regard for consequences. Many people were tired of the hype and coverage of the anniversary even before it arrived. Should the anniversary have been covered? Of course. Should we honor and remember those who died, those who survived, those who aided victims? Absolutely. But the wallowing frenzy was often maudlin, trite, and shallow, with unnecessary repetitive coverage and specials designed to drag in audiences. Much of the coverage revictimized many, angered others, and raised a storm of criticism and perhaps did more harm than good.

How much is too much? As individual journalists and clinicians, you know. But the commercial media as a group does not know. Times of crisis can bring out the best in institutions and people. Journalists were proud of their profession in the days and weeks following 9/11. But the return to dominance of celebrity worship, sensationalism, money-grubbing books and excess coverage outweighed the lofty restraint of the best of media.

In retrospect, the amount of trauma generated from 9/11 and its media coverage cannot be measured. After 9/11, the media provided a necessary balance to the resulting trauma by enabling a sense of national identity, humanity and information. One of the benefits of the past year is that media performance has been, and still is, under intense scrutiny. Coverage of the anniversary will fuel more study, and the conclusions will not be as positive.

The following is a letter from Dr. Kaethe Weingarten at Harvard Medical School regarding the summer 2002 StressPoints Media Matters article.

Dear Terry Clark:
I was pleased to see the report on journalism and trauma in the Media Section and found many of Dr. Rentschler's points interesting.

I have been working on the issue of witnessing for several years and am writing a book which has one chapter that deals with journalists as witnesses. I make some similar and some different conceptual points to Dr. Rentschler's.

One point that is made in the article that concerns me is the way Kevin Carter's suicide is linked to his not having assisted the child victim in his Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. Actually, I think the circumstances of his death are far more complex. This reductionistic account does an injustice to him and also to the lessons that we must learn from his death if we are not going to continue to place journalists and thus the public in toxic situations.

It is true that Kevin Carter's name is used by newspaper people as a warning, as in "Don't blame yourself, like Kevin Carter."

However, it is not at all clear that Carter did blame himself for his response during that incident. There is the one moment he took the photograph, but in interviews given later, he describes chasing the vulture away, seeing the girl walk to a food relief station, and weeping under a tree.

Carter was surrounded by a famine, and this child was one of hundreds he had seen that hour. He was in the Sudan to expose the famine to the world and this he did powerfully. He was proud of that photograph and thrilled with his Pulitzer. As relevant to his suicide, and reflected in his note, is that he mourned the loss of his best friend and colleague, who had died in the very township that they were covering together. Carter had left in the early morning and then heard on the radio that his friend, Ken, had been shot. Three months later, he killed himself. As trauma specialists, we know the toll of survivor guilt.

The last person who saw [Carter] was Ken's widow. And his suicide note says, "I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky."

I am not suggesting that Carter died because of any one thing. That is the point. The man had multiple exposures to traumatic situations and very recent personal and familial losses, as well as financial troubles. My concern is that the sentence [in the article] robs the man and the situation of the complexity that is due. The issue of intervention is a crucial one for the profession. I do not think the case is made well when we schematize extraordinarily complex circumstances on such grounds as "[he] did not help a starving girl but took an award-winning photograph of her." I wasn't there, but everything I have read makes me believe that that does not capture the spirit of the event nor help us in developing more complex ways of understanding the photojournalist's and the newspaper's dilemma.

Kaethe Weingarten, PhD
Harvard Medical School