Army to work with media on Arlington access

The Army says it will work to give news reporters better access when families grant permission for coverage of their loved ones’ funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

Stephanie Hoehne, principal deputy chief of Army public affairs, said she thinks there is a way to improve such access, when permission is granted, yet also guard family privacy by not going overboard.

“I think there’s some middle ground here,” said Hoehne, who along with Arlington officials met with Pentagon reporters Wednesday. “There are ways we can address both the families’ and Arlington’s needs to keep this a dignified ceremonial event, and address your needs to be able to cover it adequately.”

Currently, Arlington rules keep the media at a distance that varies with the terrain, but is typically out of earshot. Families that ask for or agree to media coverage presumably want to publicly honor the veteran being buried, and news organizations consider the words spoken at the service to be important components of such news stories.

The Arlington rules also make it difficult for photographers to get a clear photo of, for instance, the folded flag being presented to a family member.

Hoehne said the Army, the executive agency for Arlington, will review its procedures there, consider possible adjustments and review those with reporters from a variety of media in an attempt to find common ground.

Hoehne said technical solutions may exist, such as placement of discreet microphones, which would improve reporters’ ability to cover the funerals in greater detail. She also said the Army will work to set media ground rules for conduct during funeral coverage.

She offered no immediate solutions to the difficulties encountered by photographers in getting newsworthy images without unnecessarily intruding on family privacy.

“We’re going to work together,” Hoehne promised. “And we’re going to work with you.”

The issue was raised by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who covered the April 23 funeral of Marine Corps Lt. Col. Billy Hall — whose family gave permission for coverage — and decried the rules as contrary to the spirit of the family’s wishes and more in keeping with the Pentagon policy of prohibiting photographs of flag-draped caskets being returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at trans-shipment points such as Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Only the family can decide whether to allow media coverage, Hoehne said.

“We have had families tell us over and over again, ‘We don’t mind the media being there, but I don’t want to see them,’” said Thurman Higginbotham, Arlington’s deputy director.

“But the next person might say you can sit in the chair next to them,” he said. “Every family is different.”

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