If you listened or read the news yesterday, you couldn’t have missed it. The title of the story in the New York Times “Defense Chief Lifts Ban on Pictures of Coffins” was pretty much repeated throughout the major media. Democracy Now reported, “Pentagon Lifts Media Ban on Soldiers’ Remains“.
The ban on photographing coffin shipments goes back to George Bush Sr.’s excellent Panama adventure, where he was shown on the nightly network news joking with reporters while the bodies of soldiers killed in Panama were being unloaded. As punishment (for the media, not for the president, what were you thinking?) the Pentagon banned all media coverage of future death shipments.
So at first glance, this was reported as a change. But was it change we can believe in?
Unlikely. Said Gates:
“If the family of one of the fallen says that they do not want media coverage of the return of the dignified transfer process, then that will be the decision. There will be no media coverage. If they say that’s OK with them, then it will be available.”
Well that certainly clears things up. Will the family of each dead soldier be presented with a photo release form before the body is shipped home? If one family checks the box marked no, and 26 families check the box marked yes, will no boxes from that flight be photographed? Or will they put a special flag on the non-photographable one? Maybe they can hide it behind a curtain. Does it mean that the Pentagon is preparing a general survey for all soldiers’ families, in which case, if only one negative response is received, the media punishment ban will simply continue?
Is it too much to expect a reporter somewhere in this country to ask a simple question? Because if it is, there ought to at least be a truth-in-advertising law that stamps “advertorial” on every press release sent out by the Pentagon and recycled as “news”.