Being witness and bearing witness

For MacFadyen the process between being witness and bearing witness is defined by gathering other people and other sources, which will confirm his story as well.

He is aware that he will have to report on what he saw through media, so the information has to be formatted anyway. More sources, more witness accounts, to make his perception and truth more believable and the story much stronger. In this formatting, emotions of witnesses help convey the gravity of the situation.

When being witness himself to scenes of killing and people being hurt, for MacFadyen relating to these facts is a very physical thing: “I get upset by it. I'm concerned about it. It is hard to describe what the reaction is. Sometimes when you see terrible things, you want to vomit. You see bodies of dead people, who have been killed by fascists or maniacs of any kind, you get sick. That's been my reaction on occasion. You get deeply angry when you realize that people are treated in such an appalling way”.

But usually such situations affect MacFaydyen later. He tries not to have emotions at the spot and focuses on being the most accurate witness he can be. “A kind of grey, glass vizier comes down over my head, when I see bad things like that. I try not to have any emotions when I'm looking at them at all, if I can help it. Sometimes that is not possible, but I do try to do that, because I want to memorize what I'm seeing. I'm trying to recall, to be able to recall that scene with some accuracy. So I'm looking for details. What time of the day is it? What is happening in the sky? Who might have seen this? What position are they in? I will be asking myself those questions, force myself to do that, to become a witness to be the most accurate witness you can. You are, in a sense, the ears and eyes of some kind of public, there are people depending on you to recount accurately what you have seen. So you have an obligation, you are a trained observer. “

As an investigative journalist you cannot have emotions that get in the way of the accuracy of your perception. It is sometimes very difficult to develop this behaviour. As result MacFadyen explains, “When you watch a terrible event, you are in two minds. It's awful, but truthful. And so sometimes the readers or viewers get angry at the objective observers and their questions but you need to make an accurate historical record of what you have seen. People could ask you, “well what actually happened”? And I don't want to say ‘Well a bunch of bad guys came and killed innocent people’. You want to say ‘Three thirty in the afternoon I visited a site and I saw sixteen bodies, scattered on a hill side, and they were like this and like that. It would appear that they were killed by this method.’ I would try to be as accurate as I could, about what I saw. It's really important I think for people to feel they can trust you. But they are not going to trust you if they have to see everything through a filter of your immediate emotions, which could be entirely different and not sympathetic, even to what you are seeing. They want to know the facts”.

Immediately MacFadyen will write down as many details as he can. “Memory erodes, and therefore the faster you can get to the recounting of the events, the facts from a journalist point of view, the better. You are going to remember a lot more two minutes after an event than you will twenty years later. So speed becomes important in memory. Generally, I mean there are some people that have a fantastic ability to recount things. But most people don't Memory is just a tool for us, a very important tool, it's a transmission built between the event and the reader or the viewer.”

Already on site, MacFadyen will try to find other people to confirm what he saw and ask them to describe it. “Sometimes their description may be better then yours. Often that could be the case. At the same time it has the value of conveying to people the emotions that that person is feeling about having seen something awful. Emotions help to convey the gravity of the situation.”