Murderers are featured on page one of the Austin American-Statesman today (Monday, September 28, 2009) at the start of the trial for accused Hill Country killer Paul DeVoe. His victims allegedly number a half dozen between Central Texas and Pennsylvania. The “jump page” includes five more murders. The number one Austin killer, of course, was Texas Tower shooter Charles Whitman who killed 16 in his 1966 spree. Also, on the list is the man law enforcement called “The Monster”, Kenneth McDuff convicted of abducting, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering Colleen Reed in 1990 and six other people.
Noticeably missing from the list is one-eyed drifter Henry Lee Lucas, ultimately convicted of eleven murders including that of a woman known only as “Orange Socks”. Her otherwise nude body was found near the I-35/Walburg exit Halloween eve, 1979, nearly 30 years ago. When Lucas was arrested in June, 1983 in Montague County, he told the judge that he’d killed “about a hundred more women.” Lucas later recanted all of the killings, and his death sentence from the “Orange Socks” murder was commuted to life by then governor George W. Bush. Facts indicate however that Lucas did murder a lot of women starting with this own mother. Having covered him from the day after his arrest in the murder of his landlord through the “Orange Socks” trial in San Angelo, after a change of venue due to so much publicity here, to his appeals, I remain convinced that Lucas killed and killed. The details, sometimes show outside of the jury’s presence, were gruesome.
Anybody who covers crime for any length of time is going to be exposed to this sort of thing. The effects of this exposure can be profound. Maybe journalists need a chaplain.
I find no association between the words “journalist” and “chaplain”. Nothing turns up in a brief Google search. There are, of course, military chaplains, law enforcement chaplains, hospital chaplains, and some corporate chaplains. The corporate chaplain is also the closest kin to what I see as a journalist’s chaplain. Somewhere, there may be a journalist’s or journalism chaplain, but I cannot find one.
I believe, however, there is a need. This belief is born from my 40+ years in communications, much of it covering crime. A journalist cannot become personally involved in a story. I journalist’s job is to communicate that crime in a professional manner. Unable to cope with man’s brutality to his fellow man or woman, many left the news business. They may still be holding in all of that outrage.
A journalist is the eyes and ears of the public. The journalist sees and hears things, however, that the public should never see. The journalist and the photojournalists often see the awful results of violence—human upon human. The journalist then reads the affidavits with all the sordid details of crimes. The eventual trials bring forward even more detail. Journalist also see the sad waste of life and property from all kinds of disasters from hurricanes, tornados, floods, and otherwise.
These same journalists and photojournalists may carry these mental movies with them for the rest of their lives. The nightmarish pictures, cause scars or even wounds that don’t heal and questions that go unanswered.
These experiences may disrupt their lives and relationships. I often sense this in conversations. There is a certain despair.
On top of this, today’s journalism is a stressful profession with constant deadlines. Reporters and photographers are being asked to do more with less. News managers are under constant budget pressures. Editors and mid-managers often feel the most heat because they are mashed from above and below.
It is not the purpose of any chaplain to attempt to counsel the journalists. The job of a chaplain is to be present and available to people who are hurting outwardly and inwardly. A chaplain should be available to all faiths and those without faith. The chaplain may refer the journalists to counseling or their Employee Assistance Program. Of course, all communication would be confidential—journalists understand confidentiality.
Do journalists need a chaplain? Something to consider.
© Jim McNabb, 2009