April 23, 2004: Flag-Draped Coffins Become a Source of Controversy

The argument, over those flag-draped coffins returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and whether or not it is appropriate to photograph them and show them in the media, that argument has been shamefully trivialized.

These pictures were only released after a request was filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

What could possibly be more respectful to our war dead and their grieving families than to show those coffins, shrouded in the national flag being returned home with reverence and sombre military honors.

It used to be common practice to permit that ceremony, usually at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, to be covered by the press. That ended on Jan. 17, 1991; the day after the first Gulf War began. What had angered members of the first Bush administration, though, occurred a couple of years earlier. During a presidential news conference, television coverage opted to show a split screen: The news conference on one side, the caskets returning to Dover on the other.

Showing the coffins wasn't in bad taste. Juxtaposing those images with the jresident's news conference, however, was.

There is nothing inherently wrong with showing the American public pictures of our war dead coming home. It's the context; how those pictures are used that's important.

Sometimes even the people who make the rules miss the point. There's certainly nothing wrong about showing the picture of a dead New York fireman being carried up from Ground Zero on a flag-draped stretcher. Unless, of course, you put that picture in a political campaign ad.

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