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.

In any case, the policy is one about which people of good will can disagree. I’ll add one further observation about why the ban probably has been overturned: There is a recognition, albeit one slow in coming, in the Pentagon and now in a White House that is much more new media-savvy, that with cell phone cameras, digital photographs, and YouTube, it is impossible to limit picture-taking to what used to be called “the media.” Perhaps the new policy is an acknowledgment that, whereas once upon a time you could censor the press, now you can’t censor everyone.

I was interviewed by The New York Times for background and then quoted by the Associated Press and the BBC’s “The World” radio program about the story.


Some of my previous writings about war imagery:

David D. Perlmutter. “Photojournalism and Foreign Affairs.” Orbis, 49(1) 2005: 109-122.

David D. Perlmutter. Visions of War: Picturing Warfare from the Stone Age to the Cyberage. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

David D. Perlmutter. Photojournalism and Foreign Policy: Framing Icons of Outrage in International Crises. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.


Originally posted March 2, 2009 at PolicyByBlog

Original Comments Here

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    Original Reader Comments (32)

    This is really an interesting dilemma. I wonder if this ban is only at the Dover Air Force Base, or if it carries in other places around the country. This is a tricky issue because it involves not only respect for the fallen, but also patriotic and political ideals. Since the beginning of time, pretty much, cultures have focused on how to honor the dead, so it is no wonder that many are concerned with honoring those who have died for our country. I believe there is no clear cut right and ethical decision here. I can see how some people may want pictures of their fallen loved ones’ coffins, and some may wish for photographs to be restricted. I think this particular issue would be best left open to the family members of the soldiers to decide how they feel about photography at the funeral.
    March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSongbomb21

    After some research, I discovered that the Pentagon has decided to allow the families of the deceased to choose if photographs of the coffins be allowed. MSNBC in an AP article stated that since the 1991 ban put in place by George H.W. Bush, many people have tried to overturn the ban, including President Obama and Sen. John Kerry. Some believe the decision to not allow media coverage of the coffins was simply hiding the human cost of war from the American people.
    March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSongbomb21

    According to a recent interview on NPR by Don Gonyea this controversy is bound to take a new turn with the Obama Adminstration.
    In this recent interview Gonyea says that “The military has argued that the ban protects the privacy of families, but critics counter that it shields Americans from the true cost of war.” I believe this is the heart of the issue. The ban would protect families during a time of grievance, would keep them private from the media overexposure and would allow them to grieve over the loss of their loved ones. Without these photographs, life would go on but it may be a good lesson for the American people about the realities of war as the miliary is quoted saying. The whole military funeral and numerous memorials are very heart felt and emotions. I would hope that the ban would not be lifted on behalf of the grieving families decision. I would also like to work with these families to understand that the photographs of their soldiers could have a positive impact on the country as a whole and provide a greater understanding of the war. It is a shame that these soliders are possible being “sunck back into the country overnight” says Joe Biden but I hope that positive conculsions can be made from this tragic event.
    March 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterte6506

    I strongly believe that the media and U.S. citizens should adhere to and respect the individual families’ wishes in regards to their preference on shooting images of their loved one’s coffin. Therefore, rather than looking at articles that portray the journalists’ and/or the politicians’ point of view on this issue, I looked to to get an idea of what military personnel and their families think about the situation. I agreed most with a quote from Ron Conely, a Director of Veterans Affairs, because I share his fear: “some people with no consideration will try to exploit the deaths of these soldiers.” Another admission of fear arose in the article when Thoms Monari, an American Legion district commander, “said he feared “a big media blitz” triggered by the sight of rows of flag-draped coffins lined up on the Dover tarmac.”

    Here’s the aricle’s link in its entirety: I highly recommend this article. It gives diverse opinions from those who play many different roles in the military.

    One more thing: I hope and support Obama’s efforts to explore and take actions that aid in government transparency, if that was his intention. (In reference to the above AP article that Professor Perlmutter was quoted in.) However, hopefully he finds more ways that are not as controversial, for his administration to begin a new -more transparent- era.
    March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKUkris1

    The article that I was referring to and quoted above is titled,”Quarrel Stirs on Flag-Drapped Coffins” and is dated February 21, 2009. It was distributed by the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
    March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKUkris1

    This is a very tough topic for many and I believe that whatever decision Robert Gates made would not please everyone. I feel like the people of America should see the pictures of fallen soldiers because it enables citizens to comprehend the cost of war. Bob Steele puts it perfectly in his blog from, regarding this case and Everyday Ethics. He says in lifting the ban Americans will, “have a more authentic visual representation of one more piece of the complex puzzle of our involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will have one more important vantage point from which we can mourn the passing of brave men and women. We will have one more set of visual images to process the human toll of war. We will have one more way to cry with the loved ones. We will have one more way to assess what it means to fight wars. We will have one more way to evaluate our country’s foreign policy.” Again, I feel like lifting this ban is a good thing as long as journalists use their camera in a professional way in order to tell an important story.
    March 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdaslonka

    Our lives thrive on media coverage, so I do not see why hiding photographs of the flag-draped coffins of U.S. service people who have died overseas be any exception. When I first read the blog I was weary about the ban being lifted, but after reading an article from The Huffington Post, entitled Pentagon to Allow Photos of Returning War Dead, my opinion changed. The article explained how the policy will give the family a choice if they would like to admit the press to the ceremonies or not. I think that by exposing these photographs, it will give Americans a new light on the war. If a person is not connected to war in some sort of manner, they most likely put it in the back of their minds and almost forget it is happening. I think it is important to remind people that we live in safe country because other men/women are willing to fight for us. Since people who prefer to keep their ceremonies private have that choice, I feel that the reverse of the ban was needed. The article said that we should “honor our fallen heros”, and I couldn’t agree more.
    March 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersugar086

    When Robert Gates announced the banning of this policy, my first thought was of the families. Would they want the coffin of their son or daughter to be paraded on the evening news over and over? Sure, they have to give “permission” to have photographs taken and distributed publicly, but do they have a right to tell the media when to stop?
    To me, this would be too painful. It would be nearly impossible to move on and mourn when images of your child’s coffin are aired nationally, serving as a constant reminder of what you lost. I don’t think images of coffins are going to change or enhance the opinion of this war. For the last several years, public outrage over this war has increased without the use of these pictures. We know thousands of soldiers gave up their lives for the country, and we have always respected the families’ right to privacy.
    In his column on, Robert J. Begleiter believes this ban will allow the American people to honor the dignified and respectful return of war casualties to home soil for the last time. He also believes that most families will choose to have their child’s coffin paraded publicly for the sake of being publicly recognized for their sacrifice. I disagree with this statement. What the families want is their loved one back. Releasing these photos does nothing for them. They lost someone very dear, and no matter of public respect and acknowledgment will ever do that. While I am glad the families are able to give their consent to have these photos taken, I hope they choose to respect the life and sacrifice of those they have lost and let those who are actually affected by his or her death mourn in private.

    Begleiter’s article can be found at
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDover

    Regarding the ban, it’s unfortunate because along with losing a loved one, a family lost its ability to choose how to honor them. In an AP article about this issue, Vice President Joe Biden said, “I have always believed that the decision as to how to honor our fallen heroes should be left up to the families. The past practice didn’t account for a family’s wishes and I believed that was wrong.” I agree with this statement. There should have been consideration for the families right from the start when the ban was created.
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteraimsk09

    According to Barack Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs responds to the decision saying the new policy “allows them to make that decision and protect their privacy if that’s what they wish to do. And the president is supportive of the secretary’s decision.”I feel that the decision whether or not coffins can be photographed should definitely be left to the families of the war victims.” I definitely agree with this decision, it is such an emotional and personal issue that the decision can only be left to those who are directly affected by it. When the ban was put in place in 1991 it was much different time period both politically and technologically speaking, I feel that the lift on the ban was inevitable with the constant presence of citizen journalists and the changing political atmosphere.
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDuke44

    This is definitely an interesting, somewhat controversial issue. I read that a woman named Tami Silicio, who loaded US military cargo at Kuwait International Airport, and her husband were fired after a picture she took with her cell phone was passed along by a friend, to the Seattle Times. On the one hand the US military might claim to have restrictions of the publication of photographs of coffins with the remains of soldiers, but to tell the truth, I feel like the First Amendment over-rules anything the military might not want published. Citizens have a right to know what is happening with the military. And all legal or moral arguments aside, it’s fairly clear that with the new technology available to everyone, there’s little hope of any government agency preventing anything from being photographed, or otherwise recorded, and disseminated via the internet.
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdugarte

    This is a very controversial issue, but ultimately the ban needed to be lifted. I can’t say how I would feel if one of my loved ones was in the coffins. But if the photos are shot correctly they can be used to honor the fallen soldiers and remind us of the consequences of war. Bob Steele, writer for Poynter Online, outlines his opinion very tastefully.

    “We will have one more important vantage point from which we can mourn the passing of brave men and women. We will have one more set of visual images to process the human toll of war. We will have one more way to cry with the loved ones. We will have one more way to assess what it means to fight wars. We will have one more way to evaluate our country’s foreign policy”.

    I think all of his ideas above are important and help remind the American people that we are still fighting a war. He later goes on to say that journalist have an obligation to take the photos in the highest ethical manner possible. This topic is always going to be a sensitive issue, and I don’t see it ending soon. The families have the final say on the matter and this presents the biggest issue of all. What do journalists do if several coffins arrive at once and not all the families want photos to be taken? This presents another ethical issue in itself. I think its right that families to have the final say, but what do we do when one family wants a photo of their fallen son and another family doesn’t? Either way someone is getting hurt.

    Outside information found at:
    Poynter Online
    As Ban Lifts, Photos of Soldiers’ Coffins Increase Understanding through Visual Storytelling
    By: Bob Steele
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjthought87

    I think it is a good idea to allow the families of the fallen soldiers to decide if they want media taking photos and/or shooting film of flag-draped coffins. I can understand both sides of the choice. Some familes may simply want respect, while others may choose to show the world. I think the sight of flag-draped coffins is one of the sadest sights and if they are shown in a respectful manor, then they may open the eyes of many Americans. Our men and women are dieing over there, while so many of us just go on living our lives.
    The article “Return of the Dead: Photos of Soldiers’ Coffins Revive Controversy” discusses the first photo taken of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq. A Maytag Aircraft emlpoyee took the photo of the coffins and released it to the media. The employee was fired for his actions, as I believe he should have been. This was very disrespectful to the familes. I think it should be about the families’ choice, but this is just so hard to regulate with citizen journalism. People just need to show respect and think about their actions…Fox News was a prime example of this. Some 350 flag-draped coffin photos were released and Fox News was the only major news channel not to run any.
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterK523

    I can see both sides of the story in this difficult situation. While I believe the families of fallen soldiers deserve privacy, the American public deserves unbiased press access, even when its reporting and images are not pretty. As far as I know, the photographs of coffins are anonymous and do not show the bodies inside. I personally think that these photos are a reminder of the cost of war, and should not be banned.

    I read an interesting Newsweek article from 2/23 of this year by John Barry with Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert. Barry poses an interesting question about the soldiers’ in question here: “Is there a better way to honor their privacy and meet their needs while making sure the public is reminded of the price of war?

    I think that there is an answer to this dilemma, but it has yet to be discovered. In his article, “A Matter of Honor,” Barry cites Canada’s procedure for coffin transport. ” The more than 100 Canadian soldiers who have fallen in combat in Afghanistan have been flown to Trenton air base, then driven 107 miles to the mortuary in Toronto. A stretch of Canada’s Highway 401 has become known as the Highway of Heroes. When the military hearse drives down it, all other traffic is blocked; police and fire trucks, lights flashing, line each overpass, and hundreds of Canadians, flags in hand, wait along the highway.”

    This is an interesting idea. Perhaps Americans could adopt a policy like this to acknowledge both sides of the argument.

    Barry, John, Evan Thomas, and Pat Wingert. “A Matter of Honor.” Newsweek 153.8 (23 Feb. 2009): 32-32. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 9 Mar. 2009 <>.
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWMJ220

    The case of the Dover coffins’ photos is a sensitive and tricky one. My stepdad is retired military, but in no way do I consider myself to be a weathered military child, or brat. For my source, I listened to an NPR segment that involved the radio host interviewing two moms who had lost sons in Iraq. It was extremely interesting to hear the perspectives of both women. One mom thought that the pictures should be allowed because she wants the world to grieve with her, she thinks the pictures will make the civilians more personalized to the soldiers who give the ultimate sacrifice.

    The other mom wants it to be left up to the families. This suggestion however is much like privatizing social security. Unfortunately, that is seemingly too specific and tedious.

    I think that a select few media members should be allowed to take respectful pictures of the coffins, but that’s it. No shots of grieving loved ones and no names mentioned. This is a very personal time and it should be kept that way as much as possible.
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersunshine

    Sorry, I forgot to include my cite:
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersunshine

    This is a very touchy subject for some people. I think that the caskets should be shown on television and in newspapers. It doesn’t invade a grieving family’s privacy, and that kind of coverage may make people realize we are at war and people are dying. The past government has been so quick to try and cover up its mistakes or hide unpleasant facts, and that is the kind of thing the American people have the right to see. According to a CNN news report located on the blog, more than 60% of Americans polled would like to see the soldiers’ caskets. These are anonymous caskets, the soldiers’ pictures are not plastered on them, but it is a tangible symbol to see the destruction the war is creating. Karen Meredith, the mother of a fallen soldier, said she wanted people to grieve with her and honor her son that had given his life for his country. I think we need to see these images so it makes a resounding impression that this war hits a lot closer to home than some of us find comfortable.
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersenior.09

    After reading the announcement to banning this policy, I strongly agree with the decision that it should be left up to the families ofthe amount of media coverage during and before the funeral. According to the Huffington Post blog “Pentagon to all photos of returning war dead” Vice President Joe Biden said”I have always believed that the decision as to how to honor our fallen heroes should be left up to the families,” and I strongly agree with this. I think it is the families decision if they want their fallen to be publicly viewed. I do not think that it is not honoring the fallen but respecting the families decisions. If they choose to allow the flag to be draped over the coffin then so be it. However, it is tricky because like you said media coverage is out of the hands of journalists and news anchors when it comes to citizen journalism. Would this ban be all forms of media not just professional?
    March 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbosco

    I read a related article to this blog on The New York Times’ Web site, Jon Soltz, chairman of, made an interesting point in that Americans are more than happy to celebrate Memorial Day and remember the fallen soldiers by taking a day off work. However, when it comes to photographs that remind Americans that our soldiers are abroad fighting for freedom, it becomes controversial. I think the American public has a right to know what is going on with their country. If they are paying taxes to fund a war, then they ought to know what’s going on in that war. Besides, if gossip magazines can publish photographs of James Brown’s open casket, then I think respected news organizations should be able to show soldiers’ closed coffins. They just need to respect the wishes of the soldiers’ families.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJayhawk411

    The amount of casualties in Iraq has never been a secret. We know the tallies. An article of the March 9th edition of The Washington Post listed the number of fatalities at 4, 255. The fact that we haven’t been photographing the dead soldiers doesn’t mean we don’t know they died.

    However, it does make it more real. If the question of taking a photograph/not take a photograph is about respect, I say take it. To me, paying your respects to someone is a lot easier if you actually know who it is. I think the concern, shown by this tidbit from an article in the February 15th article of The New York Times, is misguided: “Although the coffins are not publicly identified at Dover, fewer deaths in Iraq mean that the identity of each is more knowable.” The most disrespect we can give to an American soldier is trying to ignore that they died for our country–show the coffins.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdude.hey

    A picture’s worth a thousand words. But what do hundreds or even thousands of pictures tell or say? This ban being lifted is extremely contriversial. How does a family decide to pay respect to the fallen? Some want their privacy and some want their story told. However in the end it is a life lost at war. In a story by the USA Today a veteran says it best:
    “All too often, the sacrifices of our military are hidden from view,” said Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “The sight of flag-draped coffins is, and should be, a sobering reminder to all Americans of the ultimate sacrifice our troops have made.”

    This is such a powerful statement to life, war, and society. Imagine this statement with a picture of draped coffins, it becomes even more powerful. This may be the point some military families want to make.

    There is the otherside. And with it the concern is as quoted:
    “This is another burden placed on a family during a time of crisis,” said Ellsworth, president of Military Families United. “I’m just afraid certain media outlets will not treat the families with respect and they’ll be used for political purposes.”

    It is human nature to tell a story, I just hope that respect is taken into consideration when telling this story.

    The full article can be found at:
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfabi.f.babi

    According to Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post, “Pictures of casualties have long played into the politics of a war — most notably in Vietnam, dubbed the “living-room war” for its extensive television coverage, including footage of coffins rolling off planes at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii as if off a conveyor belt.” The length of controversy surrounding this issue plays a role in the public’s opinion. As you noted you can’t censor everyone. The ban was also lifted keeping in mind the soldier’s family. With death comes emotion, but in the end I think photographing the coffins when done in a tasteful manner is out of respect.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermegs527

    Since 1991 the media has been banned from covering the arrival of coffins at Dover Air Force base in Delaware. The ban was placed to respect the families of fallen shoulders. Secretary of Defense Gates has decided to lift the ban under the stipulation that the families of the soldiers get to choose whether or not the media can cover the event. In a NPR article Moms of Fallen Soldiers Discuss Coffin Ban it is clear that they fall on both sides of the fence. Some feel that it is too personal of a moment, while others feel that media coverage brings respect to their family members. I think that it is very appropriate to leave the decision up to the family, especially because some feel that coverage exploits their loved ones. There should be no political agenda when it comes to the coverage because it is a very personal matter. When the media does have the chance to cover it, it should be done very tastefully and with respect. Exploitation or over exaggeration would be very disrespectful to the families.
    The article can be found at:
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbuster

    This is a very interesting dilemma and hard to see which side is ethically right. With the government use of banning photos, you have to wonder; were they doing it to protect civilians from seeing the damage the war has caused to citizens on our soil? Or, were they doing it to protect the families of the fallen, by leaving them out of the spotlight. There are good arguments for both, but history must be taken into account when discussing this issue, as well as new media. According to Helen Thomas a reporter who works for Hearst in Washington DC, she believed it was to keep down the anit-war feeling at home. According to an article published at Thomas says, “Coffin images during the Vietnam era — along with photos and video of body bags in the field and military officials talking constantly about “body counts” — had a tremendous impact in prompting antiwar sentiment at home.” While this is true, does Thomas consider the new media channels such as cell phones? Because we can all get easier access to the war now than we could to the Vietnam war, maybe this really is only about protecting the families.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacquelann

    While both sides of this issue have legitimate points and concerns, I think it’s important to realize that the death of an American soldier is a time of grieving for both the families and the nation. In a February 11th article on written by Don Gonyea, a University of Delaware professor was cited as saying, “I would say the people who die make that sacrifice not solely for the families but also for the nation.” Regardless of whether or not it has become easier for citizens to publish their own photos, I think allowing media to photograph the coffins of fallen soldiers is the right thing to do.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwachashi

    With something as tragic as fallen soldiers, America tries to do everything they can to show their appreciation towards the families of those that lost their lives for our country. This is a tough issue because some want these moments to be private and involve only the soldier’s loved ones, others want America to see and appreciate what these men and women do for our country. According to The Caucus Blog on, “Some families view the presence of media and photographers as a way to celebrate the life of their hero, while many others question the motives behind media access or understandably want to keep that solemn moment private.”

    As far as making a decision on the issue, I believe that it should be up to the soldier’s family whether they would like the press there or not. There can be a ban on unwanted photography and media but if documentation is wanted by the family, a special service provided by Dover Air Force Base. It is hard to please everyone but it seems that this is the best solution.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkew27

    According to an ABC News article, Gates told reports in February “We should not presume to make the decisions for the families, we should actually let them make it.” I can’t speak for the families because luckily no one in my family has been a casualty of war but I find honor in the coffins being covered by the media. Yes, the families should have a choice and they should not be overwhelmed by the media and reports, but many American spend less than five minutes a day thinking about the war. The numbers are reported and many people hardly think about them. To people not directly affected these are just numbers. I don’t think people actually grasp the bodies in the numbers. But pictures can reach more people and in turn gain more respect for the soldiers. Thomas Blanton, Director of National Security Archive, said it best when he said “Hiding the cost of war doesn’t make that cost any less.”
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCiaoBella

    Beyond hearing the numbers and names of the fallen, I think there does need to be some sort of image Americans can attach to the thought. This war is a large event for my generation yet I feel for those that don’t know anyone in combat it doesn’t hit close to home. While for the families of those that are serving this war is very personal. I agree with Michael Wieger’s view in the article posted on ( that it should be done properly to maintain some privacy for grieving families yet give the public a glimpse into the realities of war.Also, while the images are grim they can invoke a lot of emotion in the country which can be a good thing. Americans often disconnect from things that don’t involve them but the image of a flag over a coffin leaves the viewer the ability to empathize and feel as though they could just as easily know the soldier inside.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily87

    Connie Schultz, a pulitzer-prize winning writer, said “a dear friend of hers believes the ban should be lifted, not because he is a journalism professor but because he is the son of a Army major and someone who cherishes the 1st Amendment,” according to

    So the policy has been around for 18 years. That means that back in the days of Vietnam photos were allowed. I don’t see how the 1st Amendment has taken a step back since the 1st and 2nd world wars and the Vietnam. There must’ve of been some reason to ban photographers from the Dover Coffins. Showing those coffins does make me a little more saddened. This is a very interesting story.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMikeJohn1013

    Thsi controversy has always been one that makes my skin crawl, and I don’t exactly know why. I think that Obama is doing a good thing by removing this ban that does not allow photos of coffins of fallen sodiers. I think it is a way of honoring those who have done so much for the US. It is important for Americans to be able to see the outcome of our wars. And as bad as that sounds, we need to see it to beliebe the numbers. According to National Public Radio, in 2004, “Joe Biden, now vice president, was the U.S. senator from Delaware. At the time, he called it shameful that soldiers’ remains were being ‘snuck back into the country under the cover of night.'”

    The way that Biden addressed this controversy is exactly how I feel, and I think that is what bothers me the most. We should be able to show the Americans what we are doing, especially when there are families of loved ones who are waiting by to see that coffin.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLMP316

    The decision of whether or not the media should be allowed as coffins arrive back at Dover should rest in the hands of the family. The family should be able to decide. There should not be an overall ban on the ceremonies because some families feel that it is important for the nation to see the sacrifices their sons or daughters made. After reading the New York Times article Families Debate on Soldiers’ Coffins, it is clear that this issue is an emotional topic in which both sides feel strongly. That is why I feel it is a good decision to allow the families to decide. I do not feel that not showing the coffins that return to Dover suppress the cost of war. There are enough movies and documentaries that have been published that show the cost of war. Not showing the coffin comes down to a respect issue with the family and the deceased.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergretzky99

    This case sounds similar to the launching of Hulu a few years ago when major televsion networks realized that it was becoming impossible to control their potential audience from illegally downloading episodes of their TV series. Since Hulu’s inception, many other major networks such as NBC, USA, TNT, TBS, etc. are giving in and trying to curb illegal downloading by allowing users to view a handful of free episodes on their websites. This “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” ideology is being used here as the Pentagon, White House, and other big gov’t entities realize that if you can’t stop the leaks of photograph, you might as well allow the photos so as to at least retain some scrap of control.

    An article from the AP published last month in the New Zealand Herald on February 25 brings up a different concern than that of the ethical dilemma facing parents of fallen soldiers: framing the truth. In the article, Kelly McBride, an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, said that “It would be possible to have more coffin photos than homecoming photos, when the reality is that there are more live bodies coming home than dead bodies.” She said that its tempting for journalists to cover this to the point of overexposure, which would only distort the truth.

    Kiku Adatto, author of the 2008 book Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op, reminds us in her book of the power that comes from the photograph and that both sides (the US military/government and the press) have used photos to their advantage without a second thought to ethical violations. Adatto interviewed veteran war photographers such as David Douglas Duncan whose covered WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and other conflicts, and they agree that the one rule they stick by is never photographing the face of the dead. Adatto continues on to say how this rule, out of respect for family, has been thrown out the window with the new media only wanting the effects a photo can have. Such was with the bloody close-up of former Al Qaeda leader Musab al-Zarqawi depicted in major American newspapers, which could only have helped the American military gain more support. This example shows how the US Military can use the new media’s support of shock value to their own benefit.

    This recent decision to overturn the ban is another sign of the government learning the rules of the new media era, which is that you must release more control of power in order to have some control of power, especially when it concerns the almighty photo op. By allowing the press to cover photos, it sends a sign of respect for the media trying to do their job, which in turn will only make the media more likely offer an olive branch in return.
    March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBananagrams

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