Army refining policy on media coverage of Arlington burials
August 8, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. – At Arlington National Cemetery, families receive a folded flag, and the thanks of a grateful nation.
They leave behind a son, a brother, a father, a sister, a mother, or someone else who they hold dear.
The pain of burying a loved one can be made worse by an aggressive media, or eased by the opportunity to tell that servicemember’s story.
Under proposed revisions to the policy of media access at Arlington National Cemetery, the family’s wishes would drive what media can and cannot do.
"What the family wants, the family gets,’” said Stephanie Hoehne, principal deputy chief of Army public affairs.
Army Secretary Peter Geren ordered a review of media coverage at Arlington in July following a Washington Post column on Gina Gray, a former spokeswoman at the cemetery who claims she was fired for pushing for more media access at funerals.
Geren could see proposed revisions to the policy for covering funerals next week, said Hoehne said at a roundtable with journalists on Friday. Also attending were representatives from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The new policy calls for casualty assistance officers to read from an approved script when they ask if the family wants media to cover their loved-ones’ funerals, Hoehne said.
“Our intent is to ensure there is no attempt to persuade the family one way or the other,” she said.
Under the policy, families would be given options for media coverage of the funeral, including “limited audio coverage.”
“When limited audio coverage is permitted, only the Chaplain, cleric, or in the absence of a chaplain or cleric, an officiant or main speaker designated by the family, will wear a single microphone to permit recording and transmission of the eulogy at graveside,” the draft policy said.
Reporters at the roundtable suggested that the Army define “limited” coverage and expand the family’s options for media coverage to allow them to have a reporter to sit in the back row of the funeral if the family so desires.
“All of us want to be respectful … We don’t want to make a mess out there. We don’t want to disturb the ceremony,” said Michel DuCille, assistant managing editor for photography at the Washington Post.
Another issue was whether reporters can photograph the moment when a loved one is presented with the flag.
“I would say if that the media is authorized to cover the funeral, they are authorized to cover the entire ceremony,” Hoehne said.
But that hasn’t happened in the past, DuCille said.
“Either we’re removed before the flag is presented or right after the flag is presented, and you must leave now; and the presumption is we want you out of here before the family begins to engage with each other, get emotional, greet each other, and so leave now,” DuCille said.
Families ask for pictures of the service, he said.
“For the grieved, what they’re doing here is going to be framed forever, and if they don’t get the shot, it’s – the story is just lacking,” said Joe Davis, of Veterans of Foreign Wars.