Column – Privacy rights should prevailThe question has again been raised as to whether media should be allowed at Dover Air Force Base (AFB) in Delaware – the site of the military’s largest mortuary.
By: Tara Bitzan, Alexandria Echo Press
The question has again been raised as to whether media should be allowed at Dover Air Force Base (AFB) in Delaware – the site of the military’s largest mortuary.
President Barack Obama said in a recent press conference that the White House is in the process of reviewing the ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins of fallen soldiers from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The media ban was first imposed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, to protect the privacy of families gathered at Dover to meet the planes carrying their loved ones’ remains.
The ban was heavily questioned in 2004 after unauthorized photos of flag-covered caskets on a cargo plane were published by the Seattle Times and widely circulated via the Internet. The images were taken by a private defense contractor and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the U.S. Air Force.
President George W. Bush upheld the ban, despite much controversy and accusations that he was trying to lessen the impact of war dead during the 2004 presidential campaign.
The ban was reviewed and upheld in 2007, and now, is again under review.
Those who support media access to Dover AFB say that the country should witness the soldiers returning in coffins as a way to remind the public of the cost of war. Others believe it is just one more way to honor and pay tribute to the fallen who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Arguments against allowing the media coverage at Dover state that it creates more emotional turmoil for the families, and invades their privacy during a time of grief and mourning.
The public has a right to know. The families have a right to privacy. Whose right is greater? In my opinion, the right to privacy by the families should prevail.
Yes, the public has the right to know about the casualties and the cost of war, but I don’t believe the information needs to be shared this way. Do the photos have more impact than a bunch of statistics and words? Of course. I myself have studied an unauthorized photo taken in 2004 many times, and it never fails to put a lump in my throat and bring tears to my eyes. Photographs speak volumes and convey messages that words simply cannot.
But there needs to be a time and a place, and I don’t believe Dover AFB when the fallen soldiers are first arriving back on U.S. soil is the time or place.
One mother of a fallen soldier noted the following on an Internet comment site: “It was a very private and emotional moment and one that should have belonged only to us. We were inundated by press at our home, at the funeral and for months after, and we were generous with their access, but were very grateful that they weren’t allowed to be present at Dover…. this was our precious son, not a political statement.”
There are times that must be off-limits to the media. With the popularity of reality TV shows, the Internet, etc., very little is private anymore. But Dover AFB is one of those areas that needs to remain off limits. From there, the families can make their own choices on whether or not to let the media be part of their grieving process.
There are enough opportunities for the media to show the public the costs of war without infringing on this intimate, private time. And there are ample opportunities to honor the fallen and to celebrate their sacrifices. The first way to honor them is to grant them and their families some privacy during this one, brief stop on their journey of service.