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Military caskets

From the Winter 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 7. Military policy has banned media coverage…

From the Winter 2009 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 7.

Military policy has banned media coverage of military caskets arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware since 1991. The ban has been explained in terms of protecting families’ privacy, but also reflects a desire of officials to avoid the loss of public support for military actions by showing caskets of dead soldiers.

Exceptions to the policy had been made from time to time, but in 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq War, the Pentagon banned coverage of all “deceased military personnel returning to or departing from” air bases, citing privacy rights of those killed and their families. The U.S. Senate let the policy stand in 2004, voting against legislation that would have instructed the Department of Defense to develop rules allowing photographers to cover the arrival and departure of the flag-draped caskets.

In 2004, Vice President and former Delaware Sen. Joe Biden called it “shameful” for dead soldiers to be “snuck back into the country under the cover of night.” The policy has faced opposition from photographers, First Amendment advocates and some families of deceased soldiers.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in February ordered a review of a military policy that bans the media from taking photographs of U.S. soldiers’ caskets as they’re flown into Dover Air Force Base.

His announcement came less than 24 hours after President Obama spoke on the issue at his first prime time press conference. Obama did not give a clear answer when CNN’s Ed Henry asked if he supported the current ban. But the president said his administration is in talks with the Department of Defense on the matter.

“I don’t want to give you an answer now before I’ve evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved,” the president told Henry.