But what sets journalists apart from the others is that, by and large, they have not been treated like victims, either because of their own denials or because the system does not consider them responders, even though they—like cops and firefighters—rushed toward the doomed buildings as everyone else ran away from them. Some have had to fight with their employers for help, arguing with human-resources officers and compensation lawyers who refused to link illness to dust. Some have simply not told their supervisors they were hurt, fearing that acknowledging an ailment or asking for time off would break a newsroom ethos. “I was astounded to learn that the stigma and shame attached to acknowledging any emotional stress was even greater for journalists than it was for policemen, firefighters, and other emergency responders,” says Elana Newman, a psychologist and director of research for the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, which addresses the coverage of tragedies and the impact that such coverage has on journalists. Newman and Dart ran a trauma center for ground-zero journalists in 2002. She says that she spent time talking with a broad range of people who survived the disaster, but found that journalists were the least willing to talk about their feelings. Getting them to come to the formal group sessions she organized proved difficult, so she eventually had to conduct meetings in bars and an East Village photography gallery. “Journalists do see themselves as different,” she says.
Take Bolivar Arellano, a senior photographer for the New York Post who rushed to the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, arriving in time to photograph people falling a thousand feet to their deaths. When the first tower collapsed, Arellano was directly beneath it and shot pictures of it coming down on top of him. He escaped, but was back by the time the second tower collapsed. This time he was blown off his feet and knocked unconscious. When he came to, his right leg was torn open at the knee. “When I got up I must have had ten pounds of dust on my back,” Arellano says, during a recent interview on the east side of Manhattan, near where he lives. “I thought, ‘I survived the collapse but now I’m going to die by the dust and ash.’ ”
Arellano recovered and went back to work. But he wasn’t the same. He developed a dry cough that never really went away. He lost his balance, and more. “I also started having emotional problems but I was afraid to say anything to the editors,” he says, and that included his son, Juan, the Post’s photo editor. In his native Ecuador, Arellano had covered a massacre of students, and he photographed victims in El Salvador during the war there. But 9/11 had scarred his heart as well as his leg. “I couldn’t tell anyone that I cried day and night thinking of those people jumping,” he says. “They would think that I was an emotionally unstable person.”
Arellano eventually received a monetary settlement from the federal government’s September 11 Victim Compensation Fund for the injury to his leg. His knee healed, but his breathing problems and emotional stress have never gone away. Four years ago, he retired from journalism. “Last week I was coughing like a dog—that same dry cough as always,” Arellano says. “I live with the fear that I’m going to choke and not be able to breathe.” He is sixty-four.
Freelancers have been even more reluctant than staffers like Arellano to admit their troubles to editors and colleagues, certain that turning down an assignment that they are no longer physically capable of doing, or asking for less-stressful assignments, would hurt their careers. “I will never tell them I am sick—never—for the simple reason that I am disposable,” says Philippe Gassot, a fifty-two-year-old freelancer who in 2001 was a correspondent for French TV based in Washington, D.C. On the morning of September 11, he sped up I-95, arriving at ground zero by late afternoon when the air was still opaque with dust and smoke. For the next month, he was at ground zero every day, filming pieces and transmitting them to France.