The Dover Policy, Three Weeks Out

Randall Chase, an Associated Press correspondent based in Delaware, has an interesting update on the Pentagon’s just three-week-old policy allowing media access to the ceremony that marks the return to American soil of the bodies of soldiers killed in action, provided their families consent to the coverage.

Chase, who I quoted in a write-up of the policy the day after the first open ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, reports that 14 of the 19 families affected by the shift have welcomed coverage. Some supporters of the old policy, which had essentially quashed access to the events for 18 years, had said it was designed to protect unwanted intrusion to a solemn ceremony.

There was a different point of view, one ably expressed to Chase by a soldier’s relative:

“I think it was to protect the government’s butt,” said David Pautsch, who allowed the media to witness the return of his son Jason, an Army corporal from Davenport, Iowa, who was killed with four other soldiers in a bombing in Iraq.

He said the ban was more about minimizing the political impact of Americans dying overseas.

“I think it was a reaction against the second-guessing of our country’s mission,” he said.

As I noted in my piece earlier this month on the lifting of the ban, there was concern that after an initial burst of attention, media interest would fade.

“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.”

And so, three weeks out, Chase reports that a recent ceremony was witnessed by only one journalist: an AP photographer.

(h/t Greg Mitchell)

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.