This is your brain on the Vietnam War [picture a scrambled egg].
This nameless, scruffy photojournalist has had more than one mega-dose of war, and he's losing it. He's like a burnt-out drug case, a hippie coming down from one too many bad acid trips. In fact, it seems he's doing plenty of acid to cope with this whole gnarly business. Willard's shocked to find an American here.
The journalist's been in Vietnam since nearly the beginning of the war. At some point, he joined up with Kurtz and started following his army around. Like the mad Russian in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, he's come to idolize Kurtz, viewing him as a great man, a poet. He's a classic sycophant. When Willard looks around at the severed heads and dangling bodies decorating the compound, the journalist jumps to Kurtz's defense.
PHOTOJOURNALIST: The heads. You're looking at the heads. I, uh—sometimes he goes too far, you know—he's the first one to admit it!
The journalist's role in the film, in addition to hinting at Kurtz's hypnotic effect on people, is exposition. He gives Willard the lay of the land in his own disjointed way and tries to clue him in to what Kurtz is doing because, admittedly, it doesn't look good at first sight.
Because, the heads.
PHOTOJOURNALIST: Yeah, well.... They think you have come to take him away. I hope that isn't true.
WILLARD: Take who away?
PHOTOJOURNALIST: Him. Colonel Kurtz. These are all his children, as far as you can see.
WILLARD: Could we, uh, talk to Colonel Kurtz?
PHOTOJOURNALIST: Hey, man, you don't talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say hello to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you, and he won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say do you know that if is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you—I mean I'm no, I can't—I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas—I mean—
The guy's clearly in thrall to Kurtz. Sometimes his manic ramblings seem purely crazy—they don't seem to mean much of anything. He tells Willard:
PHOTOJOURNALIST: Do you know what the man is saying? Do you? This is dialectics. It's very simple dialectics. One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions...you can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, with fractions...what are you going to land on, one quarter, three-eighths...what are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something...that's dialectic physics, OK? Dialectic logic is there's only love and hate, you either love somebody or you hate them.
Well, that's perfectly clear.
At other times, though, the journalist has a tendency to put his finger on the heart of the matter. He sums up Kurtz accurately when he says, "He's clear in his mind, but his soul is mad."