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Pentagon Limits Media Access to Funerals

Jack Metzler Jr., the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, told The Washington Post that the cemetery would be following rules already established, but had not been strictly followed in recent years.

“We’re just enforcing what was already in place,” he said.

The rules state that reporters and photographers must stay within a cordoned-off press area.

The order to enforce the restrictions came from Army officials at the Pentagon, Metzler said.

Metzler said exceptions will be made only if a family directly authorizes that microphones be present at 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 told the Post.

Any news coverage of graveside ceremonies at Arlington is allowed only with the family’s permission.

In the past, however, print reporters were usually able to discreetly get close enough to hear the eulogy.

“We kind of slipped after 9/11,” Metzler noted.

“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,” Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans group, told the Post.

“The results of war have to be witnessed at graveside, whether you like it or not,” Robinson added.

News of the press restrictions at Arlington National Cemetery follow an earlier move by the Pentagon to enforce another existing rule banning media coverage of the bodies of troops arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The Dover policy has been in place since the first Gulf War, but it has only been consistently applied since last March. The Dover Air Base is the location of the largest Defense Department mortuary for the remains of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

As recent as the Afghanistan war, the media covered the arrival of the flag-draped coffins of U.S. soldiers.

In the days just before the Iraq war, the Pentagon ordered the rule be formally observed.

“There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein (Germany) air base or Dover base, (and) to include interim stops,” the Pentagon directive stated, as quoted by wire services.

Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cynthia Colin said late last month that the ban on media coverage stems from a respect for the families, “to protect their wishes and privacy during the time of greatest loss and grief.”