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Blinders at Arlington Cemetery

Dana Milbank, whose Washington Sketch column often sparks debate among our Readers Who Comment, touched off a storm this morning. He said that the family of Lt. Col. Billy Hall, recently killed in Iraq and leaving two young children fatherless, granted permission for the media to cover Hall's burial in Arlington Cemetery. "But the military had other ideas," Milbank wrote, "and they arranged the Marine's burial yesterday so that no sound, and few images, would make it into the public domain."

Milbank writes that his column may be dismissed as "media whining," but says "the de facto ban on media at Arlington funerals fits neatly with an effort by the administration to sanitize the war in Iraq. That, in turn, has contributed to a public boredom with the war," which has claimed more than 4,000 American lives and countless thousands of Iraqi ones.

Many of our readers agree with Milbank and see no reason why the Arlington officials can override family wishes. Several others -- who have apparently experienced what they regard (sometimes correctly, I must say) as media transgressions in exploiting the emotional side of human suffering -- say they wouldn't let cameras or reporters anywhere near such a personal event.

Others want more facts. Several suggested Milbank's treatise lacks a significant element: reporting. They want to know the names of the Arlington officials who kept the cameras at bay and reporters so far away from the service that they could not hear the words of the chaplain. Many blame the media for permitting the Iraq War to happen in the first place; others recall the impact of media coverage on the Vietnam war and suggest that the military has learned to keep the cameras and reporters away. All this while Iraq has fallen far below the economy on the list of things that worry Americans.

We'll start with edlharris, who said, "So, I guess Lt. Col. Billy Hall gave his life so some bureaucrat has the "freedom" to override his family's wishes."

readerny asked, "...why won't the families invite journalists as family guests. Guests can take photos and record sound, even if surreptitiously... It's despicable to expect someone to sacrifice his life and then demand that the public cannot see the funeral or read a decently reported story about it."

But vatownsend, who can be depended upon to defend the administration in any Iraq story, wrote, "These soldiers gave their last breath of devotion to their comrades in arms, their families, and their country, not the press..."

normanspeight was the first to ask, "So, what is the name of the person(s) who obstructed/prevented the proper reporting of this funeral? Why does the press consistently not print the names of the offenders. Do you respect their right to anonymity in the light of such uncivilised, unthinking and downright rude obstructionist behaviors?..."

kingcranky said, "This policy of censoring funerals makes a complete mockery of the reasons-supposedly to "spread freedom"-why these soldiers died. Brave troops being sent to their deaths, maimings and mental traumas, by a cowardly President, at the behest of a just-as-cowardly Vice President. Just disgusting."

odonnell521 wrote, "After having gone to school with many of today's military leaders while in the one of the service academies during the early 1970s, I see that they've remembered the PR lessons of Vietnam and forgotten the political and historical ones."

And Casey1added, "This president has hidden his dead. An illegal war, based on lies and rationalized by an ever-changing definition of "victory" has cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives. It is no wonder that the decider-in-chief wants to hide the dead."

kglkgl06 said, "...wapo [Washington Post] you guys just don't get it... you've managed to twist everything military into something bad... so you are no longer welcome... people don't trust you anymore"

ghostmoves wrote, "The de facto government censorship extends far beyond caskets and funerals. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a media photo of a dead and dismembered American soldier in Iraq?... I am old enough to remember Vietnam, from where there were photos. Photos ended that war... Let the public see the reality, and our involvement in the Iraqi civil war will end fast."

rcvinson64 said, "What shame. Then again, if the press had done its job,none of this would be happening."

jquinlan29 agreed, saying, "...The true cost of this war in the lives of the service members and their families has been hidden. When it is finally known, the numbers will be appalling. I blame the media for not covering this aggressively and allowing the Bush administration to hide what they are doing. Where is our free press?"

timmyleecook asked, "And just what would be the "news" one would glean from observing the ceremony at close quarters? Perhaps an aggressive reporter could get one of the relatives to dis the President as the casket was lowered in the background? Maybe someone would make a Peace sign for the camera. You are a ghoul."

Awheck agreed, saying, "Death is a private affair. So this tirade was about reporters not the man or his family. I have had to remove reporters asking for pictures of the deceased before the wife was notified of her husbands death... Who will assure that the photographer looking to win the Pulitzer Price will not trample the other graves... Write to Honor our dead and departed brother for what he did not to satisfy you ghoulish newsworthyness."

But pundito wrote, "If the Iraq war had a visible cost, Americans might demand a visible benefit."

russell2 said, "Thank you Dana for reporting on this important subject... As long as there are American's dying in Iraq, you or the WP should publish a story a week about those who continue to sacrifice their lives not to mention the number who come home with severe injuries. [http://projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen/] All because Bush and team decided they wanted to invade Iraq."

Headline wrote, "...High military Brass can't be allowed to get away with this kind of censorship. This is a deomocracy, not communist China and family wishes and family wishes only should be obeyed at any funeral within reason of decorum."

But virginiathefrog said, "...I commend Hall and all the other COUNTLESS veterans in that cemetary. one family does NOT have the authority to determine the protocol of the entire cemetary... This is not a truly appropriate time for the press to be nagging the soldiers protecting the sanctity of the cemetary. It is a time for reverence, respect and no telephoto lenses..."

Last word to patty2 who said, "The press had the invitation of the immediate family. Period. They weren't crashing the ceremony. They were invited to attend, cover and report on the service. The government stopped them. One more reason to be concerned."

All comments on Milbank's sketch are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  April 24, 2008; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Iraq  
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