Convergence Media

Pentagon ban broken

NY Times photo of flag-draped coffinsThe knee-jerk reaction of Maytag Aircraft — its firing of Tami Silicio (Edmonds WA) and her husband, David Landry — may have been requested by the Pentagon.

But neither entity realized that they were about to turn a regional story into an international one. This is a great example of horrible PR/crisis management and yet another example of grassroots journalism turning mainstream media on its ear.

Note: I refuse to call these flag-draped coffins “remains” because, to me, that connotes photos of an open casket or corpses such as those of civilians killed in Iraq earlier this month (those photos were not subject to the Pentagon ban because they pictured civilians).

A non-event
When the news broke Thursday that Silicio had been fired, no wire service had picked up the Sunday Seattle Times front-page story which featured her photo of flag-draped coffins (per a Google search). Nor had any major US media outlet.

Most of the stories about the Silicio firing mentioned her photo, but did not run the picture.

Now almost “everyone” seems to know not only her story/picture but also the fact that The Memory Hole has received (and posted) 361 images of Dover Air Force Base ceremonies under a FOI request.

I say “almost” because media reports state that the Fox Network (owned by Rupert Murdock) has not shown the pictures nor has it aired a story about the White House ban.

Major media have reported that they had not issued a FOI request because they were unaware that the Air Force was photographing the arrivals. Associated Press spokesman Jack Stokes told Newsday in mid-April that “we have periodically protested the ban and that will continue” but that he was “nowhere near” challenging the Pentagon ban in court.

Not so divided
Many stories position the decision to publish the flag-draped coffins as divisive and controversial.

However, the NYT reported Friday that a December poll “found that 62 percent of Americans said the public should be allowed to see pictures of the military honor guard receiving the coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq as they are returned to the United States.” Only 27 percent felt the public should not be allowed to view such images.

The Bush Administration claims that families requested the photo ban. But according to, “The National Military Family Association, an advocacy group, acknowledged in a statement Friday that ‘there is no apparent consensus among families about whether they want events surrounding the death and burial of their service member made public.'”

Back story
Images of war dead have appeared in newspapers since the Civil War; such images are credited with turning public opinion against the conflict in Vietnam.

Newsday reported mid-April that durng the ’70s and ’80s, the Pentagon encouraged coverage for soldiers killed in Egypt, Lebanon and Grenada. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were often part of the elaborate ceremonies.

The current ban on photographs of military dead stems from 21 Jan. 1991, when the first Bush Administration prohibited photos at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, home to the military’s largest mortuary. The ban had not been strictly enforced until late in the second Bush Administration.

During the first two years of this Bush administration, journalists were allowed to photo coffins arriving at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. The Pentagon now says that those photos violated the ban and reiterated in March 2003, when the current Iraq war began, that no photos of military dead could be taken.

The timing of the ban certainly reeks of political expediency — especially when contrasted with other “favorable” images of the war, from the Jessica Lynch “rescue” to Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” photo op.

Calgary Herald (24 Apr); Guardian Unlimited (UK – 24 Apr); The Independent (UK – 24 Apr); NY Daily News (24 Apr); San Diego Union-Tribune (24 Apr); The Sun (UK – 24 Apr); MTV (23 Apr); NYT (23 Apr); (23 Apr); Newsday (19 Apr)

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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