The Army tightened rules yesterday on press coverage of funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, directing that reporters be kept far enough away from the graveside that they would likely be unable to hear a chaplain's eulogy.
Reporters will be restricted to a roped-in “bullpen” that is generally far enough away that words spoken at graveside cannot be heard, officials said.
Jack Metzler Jr., the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, said the cemetery will be following rules that were already in the books but had not been strictly observed in recent years. “We're just enforcing what was already in place,” he said.
The order to enforce the restriction came from Army officials at the Pentagon, Metzler said. He said the order came in response to a complaint, but he declined to provide details.
The change comes as the White House and the Pentagon are showing increased sensitivity to the portrayal of U.S. casualties from the war in Iraq. Officials have barred media coverage of the bodies of troops arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, in that case also insisting that a long-ignored rule be enforced.
“It concerns me, because you can't understand the true cost of war if you can't see the amputees and the people who have been killed,” said Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans group. “The results of war have to be witnessed at graveside, whether you like it or not.”
Metzler said exceptions will be made only if a family expressly authorizes that microphones be allowed graveside or that a reporter be allowed to join mourners. “If the family gives direct permission, then of course we will honor their instructions,” Metzler said.
During the funerals at Arlington of soldiers killed in Iraq, some families have allowed microphones to be placed under chairs, and in a few cases, widows of soldiers have worn microphones during funerals. Print reporters have generally been allowed to discreetly edge close enough to hear the eulogy.
“We kind of slipped after 9/11,” Metzler said.
News coverage of any funeral at Arlington is allowed only with the family's permission. Officials with the Army's Military District of Washington, which oversees Arlington Cemetery, said yesterday they were still sorting out the policy. “We were given the directive today. Why this happened all of a sudden, we don't know,” one official said. “We're in the dark ourselves.”
An Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon yesterday evening was unable to provide information about the reasons for the directive.
Ann Baddick, mother of Army Sergeant Andrew Joseph Baddick, said she was appreciative of the coverage of her son's death west of Baghdad. “They were very respectful. They went out of their way to do a wonderful story on him,” said Baddick, referring to coverage in the family's home town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, and of the interment service at Arlington National Cemetery on October 14, 2003.
She said she is publishing a “thank-you” in the newspaper to express her gratitude for being allowed to maintain her privacy. “The press and everyone has been so wonderful to honor him,” she said.
The parents of Army Staff Sergeant Jamie L. Huggins declined to talk to a reporter before his November 5, 2003, burial. Reached yesterday, Huggins's mother, Helen Huggins, said she considered the media coverage of her son's funeral “okay” but declined to elaborate.
Huggins said the pain from her son's death was still too fresh to speak about. “I just don't feel like talking right now,” she said.
The Washington Post has covered every burial at Arlington for service members killed in Iraq, when families permit.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard