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Army fires whistleblower who wanted press access to military funerals

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  1. Newsgathering
The Army fired Arlington National Cemetery’s public affairs director late last month after a struggle over Army restrictions on press access…

The Army fired Arlington National Cemetery’s public affairs director late last month after a struggle over Army restrictions on press access to the funerals of soldiers killed in the Iraq war.

Gina Gray, who took over as the public affairs director just three months ago, made headlines in April in The Washington Post for trying to increase media access funerals in which the family approved it. But despite Gray’s efforts — and those of families hoping to remind the public of the ultimate cost of war — the Army tightened its restrictions on reporters.

In particular, Gray took issue with cemetery officials demanding the media stay within a designated area, 50 yards away from the service, according to the Post account.

This new practice, which Gray said violated Army regulations, blocked the photographers’ view and placed the reporters out of earshot. Traditionally, the media have been allowed to cover funerals from a location where they could listen to the prayers and eulogies, and photograph the folded flag being passed to the next-of-kin.  

Although nearly two-thirds of families have permitted media coverage at soldiers’ funerals, Gray told the newspaper that the cemetery’s deputy superintendent, Thurman Higginbotham, has been calling the families, pressuring them to deny access to the press altogether.

The Post confirmed the accusation with a high-ranking Arlington official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Arlington National Cemetery, which fired Gray just eight weeks after The Post ran its column on her push for press access, is now looking for its fourth public affairs director in the past few years.  

Gray’s termination memo, which states that she “failed to act in an inappropriate manner," contained a typo. “Only at Arlington National Ceremony could it be considered a firing offense to act appropriately,” reporter Dana Milbank wrote in The Post.