Pentagon explains Dover media rules
April 2, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon met with reporters, editors and producers Wednesday to provide details of its plan to allow media coverage at Dover Air Force Base of the repatriation of troops who have died overseas.
Coverage will be allowed starting Monday, officials said.
When the military notifies a family that a servicemember has died, they will be asked if they consent to media coverage of the return and "dignified transfer of remains" at Dover. Dover public affairs officers will post notice on their Web site and send an e-mail to journalists with the name, rank, service, hometown and logistics of the inbound remains.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters to expect logistical challenges — the average time between family notification and the arrival of remains is six to eight hours, he said, and come at all hours of the day, in any weather. Family members and media will have to get into the base and onto the flightline in time for the 15-minute honor guard ceremony as flag-draped coffins are unloaded onto the tarmac.
Families rarely have come to Dover, he said, so the military recently offered to pay for relatives to make the trip, and military personnel will take photographs and record video of the event should families later wish to obtain those records.
"The core of the policy is built around the desires of the family members," said Whitman.
But family members are not part of the transfer process, he added, so the military will shield media from families until after the ceremony, when they will arrange any consented interaction.
The media will not be allowed "to do things that would take away from the solemn-ness of the event," he said, such as set up intrusive television camera lighting.
"We are not changing the dignified transfer process to accommodate media, what we are doing is accommodating media to cover the dignified transfer process."
Reporters raised some concerns about the process.
While the military will tell reporters which caskets contain which servicemember, positive identification of each body is officially in "believed to be" status, until fingerprints, dental or DNA is confirmed in the morgue at Dover after the tarmac ceremony. Moreover, military notices from Dover will not say where or how incoming servicemembers died, or even whether the deaths occurred in the two theaters of war.
Whitman said that the policy addressed the return of all military dead coming home. "What you’re really asking us to do is say one death is more important than another death," he told Pentagon correspondents gathered in his office.
But the ban on media coverage at Dover dates to the 1991 U.S. invasion of Panama and has always been associated with showing images of flag-draped coffins returning America’s war dead, reporters noted.