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Mindful : August 2014
August 2014 mindful 35 media Top: In 2001, Dan Harris interviews an Afghan warlord in Tora Bora. Above: War report- ing left him rattled, leading to a period of drug abuse and ultimately to an on-air panic attack in 2004, while reading the news on Good Morning America. Left: Surrounded by Taliban members in Kandahar, 2001. was filling in for Robin Roberts as the newsreader, sitting at a small, satellite anchor desk inside the second story of ABC’s glass-encased studio in Times Square. At the main anchor desk were the cohosts, the av uncular Charles Gibson and the elegant Diane Saw yer. Cha rlie tossed it over to me: “ We’re gonna go now to Dan Harris, who’s at the news desk. Dan?” I was supposed to read a series of six “voice-overs”— twenty-second news items with accompanying video clips. It started out fine. “Good morning, Charlie and Diane. Tha nk you,” I said in my best morning-an- chor voice, chipper yet authoritative. But then, right in the middle of the second voice-over, it hit. Out of nowhere, I felt like I was being stabbed in the brain with raw animal fear. A paralytic wave of panic rolled up through my shoulders, over my head, then down my face. My heart started to gallop. My mouth dried up. My palms oozed sweat. I had four more stories to read, an eternity, with no break a nd no place to hide, no time to regroup— no sound bites or pretaped stories or field corre- spondents to toss to. I was losing my ability to speak, gasping as I waged an internal battle against the wave of howl- ing terror, all of it compounded by the knowledge that the whole debacle was being beamed out live. You’re on national television. This is happening now. Right now. Everyone is seeing this, dude. Do something. DO something. I tried to fight through it, with mixed results. The official tra nscript of the broadcast reflects my descent into incoherence: “ Researchers report people who take cholester- ol-lowering drugs called statins for at least five years may also lower their risk for ca ncer, but it’s too early to...to prescribe statins slowly for ca ncer production.” It was at this point, shortly after my reference to “cancer production,” with my face drained of blood and contorted with tics, that I decided to resort to a gambit I’d never used before on TV. I bailed— punted. I cut the newscast short. My on-air meltdown was the direct result of an extended run of mindlessness, a period of time during which I was focused on adva ncement a nd adventure, to the detriment of pretty much every- thing else in my life. Although many of my friends partook, I’d made it through high school, college, a nd my twenties with- out experimenting with hard drugs. Alcohol and a little weed, yes, but nothing more. I was never even tempted—or to be more honest, I was sca red. On a → PHOTOGRAPHSCOURTESYOFDANHARRIS/ABCNEWS