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Maybe I Was Wrong ...

Posted By McQ • [April 27, 2009]

I think it is way too early to definitely conclude that (thus the qualifier 'maybe"), however, very early indications are that families of the fallen haven't any problem with media coverage of their fallen family member at Dover AFB and that the media who have covered such arrivals have been respectful of the event:

In the weeks since the Pentagon ended an 18-year ban on media coverage of fallen soldiers returning to the U.S., most families given the option have allowed reporters and photographers to witness the solemn ceremonies that mark the arrival of flag-draped transfer cases.

Critics had warned that military families needed privacy and peace activists might exploit the images, but so far the coverage has not caused problems.

The real reason "maybe" is in the title is found in a couple of key phrases in the last sentence - "peace activists" haven't yet "exploit[ed] the images". Being a born cynic, I fully expect that to change. And while I haven't looked, I wouldn't be surprised if that hasn't already happened somewhere.

But, that said:

Since the ban was lifted, 19 families have been asked whether they wanted media coverage of their loved one's return and 14 have said yes.

"That's a pretty good majority," Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, a Pentagon spokesman, said earlier this month, when 16 families had been asked and 13 had consented. He said, though, that it's still too early to tell whether military families favor the new policy.

Rose Alexander, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office, said reporters have been cooperative and there haven't been any problems.

Obviously then a majority of those who've been asked since the policy changed have consented to the coverage. One of the things I've been wondering is whether the movie "Taking Chance" had anything to do with that. I wouldn't be particularly surprised if those who have seen it would be more favorably disposed toward approval.

And although I'm still not a fan of the decision, I have to say I find it hard to argue against what the family wants for their fallen warrior. I'm still concerned about exploitation, but it is hard to argue against the early numbers.

But putting my cynic's hat back on, this didn't surprise me at all:

Media interest has fallen off sharply since almost 40 reporters, photographers and camera operators turned out to document the arrival of Myers' body. At a more recent casualty arrivals, the only media representative was a lone photographer from The Associated Press.

I'm not sure what they expected to "document" but one flag-draped transfer case looks pretty much like another, and, at a relative lull in the war, there aren't mass casualties to document, thereby negating the impact of what they'd really like to document - a plane full of transfer cases. That's an opinion, but I think it is pretty spot on.

16 coming in to Dover in ones, twos and maybe threes doesn't paint the picture they'd like to paint, so media attendance has dropped off considerably. What a surprise.

Like I said, I'm still not a fan of the decision, but as it stands right now, in the very preliminary stages of its implementation, I'm willing to entertain the idea I may have been wrong. But my lifelong observation of the media just won't quite let me say that conclusively. And my experience with "peace activists" tells me it's only a matter of time before we see some sort of exploitation of these images. 

I think I'll wait until a year in Afghanistan with an increased troop presence has passed before I make a final determination.


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