For the first time in 18 years, the media was allowed access to a military base in order to photograph images of a returning U.S. soldier who was killed in combat. The body of 30-year-old Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers arrived at Dover Air Force Base last night with his family in attendance. Myers was killed on April 4, 2009 after being hit with an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery last year.
This marks the first time the media has been granted access to a military base to photograph images of United States soldiers who have been killed in combat since the ban was put in place by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. There have been a few exceptions over the years, but the ban has largely remained in place since the beginning of the first Gulf War. Since his inauguration, President Obama asked for a review of the ban and the Administration has since decided that they will allow families to decide whether to allow media presence.
Reversing the policy of a blanket ban on photographing the coffins of U.S. soldiers returning home is a positive development and interestingly comes at a time when the Obama Administration is pushing to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Members of the media should not be banned from documenting the realities of war whether it be photographing flag-draped coffins of returning U.S. dead, or the results of a bombing campaign that has caused civilian casualties overseas. If the American people are asked to support a war effort, they should be able to see all the results of that effort.
While this is a positive step for the rights of the media, there is still a long way to come. The process of embedding reporters with the United States military has had a devastating effect on objective war coverage and should be the next practice that is abandoned.