Doraine McNutt, the media relations chief in the public affairs office at Fort Carson army base, likely experienced one of those moments Friday when she sent out her daily media "analysis" to the media.
This is how it works: Many organizations, public and private, have someone in charge of reviewing various publications. They look for news stories of interest to the organization, compile the day's coverage and send it off to the suits, or in this case, the brass upstairs.
This is where McNutt comes in. Using her opinion as a guide, she summarized a list of stories about Fort Carson, breaking them down into "negative" and "positive" and "neutral" categories.
So how did we do? Well, last week's Independent feature about the crippling effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on soldiers didn't go over so well.
"This is a story about former Fort Carson soldiers who supposedly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," McNutt wrote. "The article states that many soldiers have trouble getting help at Fort Carson. This is a slanted story with a negative impact on Fort Carson." [Italics hers.]
The Gazette, on the other hand, along with KRDO Channel 13 and KKTV Channels 5/30, received props for their coverage of Fort Carson's new "adoption" program, which hooks local families up with soldiers who are stationed far from home. Army officials had unveiled the program, called Citizen Soldier Connection, during a press conference the day before. "This is a positive story with a positive impact on Fort Carson," McNutt wrote.
She went on to list several other stories with Fort Carson connections. Of a Pueblo Chieftain article about the base expansion's economic impact on the region, McNutt claimed, "This is a balanced story with neutral impact on Fort Carson." A Gazette story about a so-called funeral protest bill moving forward in the Colorado Legislature was also "a balanced story with a neutral impact on Fort Carson," as was another Gazette story about a California-based defense firm that is vying for a contract in Colorado Springs.
Three minutes after sending out her worldview of events to the 50 newspaper and broadcast recipients on her mailing list, another e-mail appeared: "McNutt, Doraine ... would like to recall the message, "Media Analysis 4-14-2006.'"
It's understandable that the public affairs folks at Fort Carson would determine that a story in which former soldiers say they've had to fight to get the military to recognize their PTSD is negative. And it's no surprise that they would determine that their self-generated feel-good stories are positive.
But talking about even just acknowledging the realities of PTSD among soldiers should not be an issue of negative versus positive. And that, unfortunately, seems to be lost on the mouthpieces not just at Fort Carson, but throughout the military.
Previously called "battle fatigue" or "shell shock," PTSD wasn't even officially recognized as a medically classified, treatable syndrome until 1980. We should have learned better than to stigmatize those who are suffering, but apparently we haven't.
Even noted psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers weighed in on PTSD on the cover of last week's Parade, that ubiquitous all-purpose glossy magazine that is stuffed inside everyone's Sunday newspaper. Citing a study conducted by Dr. Charles W. Hoge of the Walter Reed Army Institute and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Brothers noted that 17 percent of returning soldiers nearly one in five suffer from major depression, generalized anxiety or PTSD.
"The wounds of this war [in Iraq] have been horrendous," Brothers wrote. "As a nation we must make our veterans a priority with increased funding for transitional psychotherapeutic and bereavement services."
In addition to calling press conferences to spin good stories, Fort Carson officials would do well to be forthcoming about the mental state of returning soldiers and making sure treatment is readily available for those who need it. They might think that is negative to talk about such things, but and this is far more important it would be a positive thing for the soldiers.