For the first time in 18 years, the Pentagon has relaxed its rules on media coverage for those who have died overseas in the nation’s service.  They will allow media access to see the caskets return to the US as long as the individual families approve the request.  The new policy changes rules followed by three successive administrations:

The Pentagon’s 18-year ban on media covering the return of fallen U.S. service members ended with a solemn ceremony for the arrival of a flag-draped casket of an airman felled in Afghanistan. …

The ban was put in place by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, at the time of the Persian Gulf War. From the start, it was cast as a way to shield grieving families.

But critics argued the government was trying to hide the human cost of war. President Barack Obama had asked for a review of the ban, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that the blanket restriction made him uncomfortable.

Under the new policy, families of fallen servicemen will decide whether to allow media coverage of their return. If several bodies arrive on the same flight, news coverage will be allowed only for those whose families have given permission.

Critics have mostly blamed the wrong Bush for this policy.  George W. Bush refused to change the policy, but his father and Bill Clinton both held fast to the rule as well.  The issue was whether media organizations would exploit the dead for their own political views.  It was generally thought that military families didn’t want to have their losses used as anyone’s hobby horses, but certainly some individuals struck out at the war in their grief, the most visible among them Cindy Sheehan.

This compromise seems reasonable.  The Pentagon will only provide media coverage of the arrival when the family explicitly allows it, giving them the choice and allowing them the final word.  That could put unreasonable pressure on them to accede, depending on how the Pentagon handles the requests, but hopefully they have a process in place that protects the family from harassment by the media.

I’ve never understood the fascination with getting pictures of the caskets in the first place.  We know that Americans die in war, and we know that they come home to Dover for handling.  The curiosity seems less to do with news than with the lure of the forbidden, but at least now the decision rests with the right people.

Update: Pete Hegseth approves.

Tags: Barack Obama