WASHINGTON: As casualties mount in Iraq, the American press is starting to take notice of a media ban imposed by the Pentagon sometime in the past two years that critics are calling a blatant attempt to insulate the public from the sad realities of war.
Journalists and photographers are no longer permitted to cover the return of soldiers' bodies to US bases in America. This was recently highlighted by an article on The Washington Post's Federal Page last Tuesday. The article quoted a directive from the Pentagon to those bases, supposedly sent in March, stating, "There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing" such bases.
A Pentagon spokesperson denied that it marked a shift in policy, and told PRWeek that the ban has been in place at least since the war in Afghanistan. Regardless, the spokesman insisted that there had been no media complaints about the policy until last week, when a handful of inquiries were spurred by the Post article.
As for the reason behind the ban, the spokesman said, "The media can get a better, more complete understanding of the person who has passed by attending and covering the funeral services as opposed to just coffins arriving. There may also be logistical issues involved."
It is unclear precisely when the ban came into existence, but one Pentagon source said it has been on the books since the Clinton administration. However, the ban was not enforced until recently.
Media watchdogs aren't buying the military's rationale for the prohibition, characterizing it as a shameless attempt to manipulate public opinion by preventing Americans from witnessing a classic symbol of US sacrifice.
"After using an aircraft carrier to announce victory in the spring, it seems a bit hypocritical to limit access to similar military locations where the story is also being advanced," said Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, referring to President Bush's landing on the USS Abraham earlier this year to announce the end of major hostilities in Iraq. "If someone is going to politicize military success, they have to be prepared to deal with the reckoning of military failure."
The number of American troops killed in Iraq since President Bush's appearance on the USS Abraham recently surpassed the total killed during the war's major hostilities.