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'Picture Ban Policy' - A Commentary

By Marisa Trevi?o, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Bill Mitchell is an American patriot of the elite kind. He and more than 700 other fathers and mothers have made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Mitchell sent his son off to fight in a war from which there was no return for his son.

Michael Mitchell was killed on April 4th. His father believes Michael's remains were among those in the now infamous picture taken by Tami Silicio, the contractor Maytag Aircraft fired for violating the picture policy.

As everyone's heard by now, the Pentagon and the White House are upholding a pre-existing policy that bans news organizations from showing images of the war dead arriving at military bases. Both the Pentagon and the Bush administration say they refuse to allow the heart-wrenching images to be shown, out of respect for the families' privacy.

The government's rationale rings hollow when the true reason for the policy had nothing to do with sensitivity to the families of dead soldiers, and instead was about appeasing the feelings of a sensitive President.

It seems that the picture policy was reinstated in 1991, at the start of the last Iraqi war under the first President Bush.

And it was the media's fault.

On a recent edition of ABC's Nightline, host Ted Koppel revealed that in December of 1989, while George H.W. Bush was giving a news conference, ABC News split the screen. On one side, it was the President standing behind the presidential seal fielding questions; the other half of the screen showed the flag-draped coffins of the war dead returning to Dover.

It was a picture with the potential for losing votes.

The current Bush administration argues families would become upset seeing coffins of their loved ones being carried off the planes.

Nothing could be further from reality.

The scene of a cargo bay lined neatly with flag-draped wooden boxes, or soldiers solemnly carrying the casket of their fallen comrade, evokes silent respect from onlookers, and speechless pride from families.

So much pride that Bill Mitchell wrote a letter thanking The Seattle Times for publishing Silicio's picture. He didn't feel his privacy had been invaded. In fact, he was willing to furnish the newspaper with a picture of his son in his casket to "take it one step further than the picture shown inside the airplane with a bunch of anonymous flag-draped coffins."

Bill Mitchell is hardly alone.

A national organization called Military Families Speak Out has protested the picture policy to no avail. According to a posting on their website, even casualty families are discouraged and outright prevented from receiving their loved ones at Dover and other bases.

If all this was truly about protecting the grieving families, then the families themselves would have prohibited media coverage of widows and mothers receiving precisely folded flags at gravesides, eulogies delivered in hometown churches or children saying their final good-byes to their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.

The truth is, families have not prohibited these scenes from being shown.

The families, for the most part, understand what this administration doesn't seem to get or want to get: these families' soldier sons and daughters are no longer just their private pride and joy, but the pride of a national family that deserves the right to bestow a hero's welcome to their returning children, regardless of how they arrive home.

Marisa Trevino is a writer from Rowlett. If you have opinions or a rebuttal to this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or contact us through our website at KERA.ORG.