“We did have to turn a few away,” says Andrews. “It gets pretty tight out there on the flight line.”
One of the reporters was Randall Chase, the Associated Press’s Delaware correspondent.
“The Air Force had a bus waiting for us at a former shopping center” near the base, says Chase. Before boarding, journalists were required to sign an eleven-point ground rules document, which instructs them, among other points, to perform all necessary movement “in a slow and dignified manner,” under penalty of possible removal and future banning.
They were then driven to the briefing room of the 3rd Airlift Squadron, a few hundred yards away from the flight line media area, where camera equipment and baggage were inspected while the journalists watched a five- to ten-minute PowerPoint briefing on procedures. The standard briefing includes information on the blocking of the ceremony, in order to help photographers and videographers plan their shots, according to Andrews.
To prevent unauthorized photography of the family, the media was bussed to the field, and placed behind a rope line just to the left of the family area. Only then did the mini-bus like vehicle carrying the family arrive. It parked right alongside the press, and the family exited through a door on the far side of the bus, obstructing the press’s view.
“It didn’t matter much because anyone who even thought about taking a picture of the family would have been kicked out,” says Chase. In order to maintain a solemn atmosphere, photographers are not allowed to use flashes. For now, live transmissions of the event are also banned, although that policy is under reconsideration, according to Andrews.
The Associated Press and others had been concerned about how the military would grant access if multiple bodies arrived on the same flight and not all of their families offered consent.
Last night offered an example of that situation. Secretary Gates, when he signed the memo in late march, instructed the military to prepare to enact the policy by April 6. On Saturday, when Sgt. Myers died, the military anticipated that the flight carrying his body would arrive around 11:45 Monday morning, the day the policy was to go into effect.
Due to the vagaries of military transport plane schedules, Myers’s body arrived over twelve hours earlier, on the same flight as another deceased Army soldier, whose family had not been asked if they would consent to access. And so the Army soldier’s transfer ceremony went unwitnessed by the press. According to Andrews, there is usually a fifteen-minute pause between each ceremony, during which the press can be brought out, as it was last night.
“That’s how it’s going to work in the future,” according to Andrews.
Last night’s ceremony was a landmark occasion. But now that the ceremonies are likely to be open so often, there’s little guarantee that the press will regularly come out in such force.
“Now that the families are giving their consent, will the media care?” asks Melnyk, who worries that families who consent to coverage, but see no journalists at their loved one’s arrival, may get the impression that the nation does not appreciate their loss. “It ain’t going to be news in a month.”
The military has no plans to routinely release its photos and videos of the ceremony, even if they are accessible under FOIA. “The reason we’re going to have those photographers is for the family only,” says Andrews. “I don’t think we’re going to be posting these.”
One thing that might draw the press are occasions when the family will consent to photography of their reactions at the ceremony, or to interviews afterwards. But the military doesn’t plan on asking the family about that level of access until they arrive at Dover, making it impossible for the press to know what level of access they’ll have before arriving at the base.
“In the short term, we plan to be there, at least for photo coverage,” says the Associated Press’s Chase.
While the new policy means that some ceremonies will be open, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be seen.