Photo Ethics of Dover Coffins: The New Media Factor

Recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates discussed and then announcedthat the U.S. government was going to reverse an 18-year policy on banning photographs of the flag-draped coffins of U.S. service people who have died overseas arriving at Dover Air Force base. The ban was controversial. Many families of service people supported it because they felt that having media present, especially video and still photographers, would be an intrusion on their privacy. Other families advocated allowing pictures to document the sacrifice of the fallen. (The event is one now seen in fiction, as in the HBO movie “Taking Chance.”)

Politically, the ban was perceived by opponents of the Iraq war as a way to hide the cost of the conflict from the American people. War supporters argued that the ban was more about respect for families. The new policy seems to be to allow families to state their preference concerning media presence. Complications that might arise will stem from the fact that often multiple coffins are delivered at the same time.

It will also be interesting to see if the policy changes once American casualties escalate due to increased fighting in Afghanistan. [Read more…]

Perlmutter on “War and Visual Media”

David D. Perlmutter has been invited to write the chapter on “War and Visual Media” for the Encyclopedia of War.

Originally posted May 5, 2009 at PolicyByBlog