This morning I watched flag-draped coffins carried past an honor guard and Barack Obama at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Mr. Obama recently rescinded the ban on photographs and media coverage of the arriving coffins.
The ban was put in effect by former President George H.W. Bush in February 1991 during the first Gulf War (there are reports that the ban may have started earlier, in 1989). Using a split-screen technique, the media broadcast images of the President at a news conference, appearing to joke, while juxtaposing the solemn ceremony reserved for fallen soldiers at Dover. Media coverage was curtailed after that insensitive stunt.
President George W. Bush further tightened the ban on media coverage at Dover, preferring to meet in private with the families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. President Bush was often accompanied by First Lady Barbara Bush.
While Mr. Obama stood at attention amidst the honor guard at Dover, delivering a slow, solemn (and nicely choreographed) hand salute to the flag-covered caskets, the photographers snapped away and film crews documented the event. Mainstream media reporters submitted their homage to Mr. Obama’s pre-dawn attendance at the base, lamenting that he “inherited two wars” and was bearing witness to the results of war “directly.”
I reviewed reports from ABC, AOL, Associated Press and numerous blogs that characterized this “historic” occasion as noble, pivotal, heart-rending and a “dramatic image” not seen in years. Gushing with tributes and honor for the great sacrifices by Mr. Obama (he pulled an “all-nighter” in order to make the visit the Dover, Delaware base), this was a perfect occasion for the Obama administration to do a little image-polishing after his popularity and health care initiatives were tarnished by performance disapproval, Tea Party demonstrations and strong opposition to health care reform and a myriad of other issues on his agenda.
The reporters were correct in their description of the return of our soldiers’ remains; it is a heart-rending, solemn and moving experience. However, the media also took this somber moment to condemn former President George W. Bush for not allowing media coverage of the caskets; President Bush preferred to respect the privacy of the grieving families.
President Bush was noted for private visits, without fanfare or media entourages, to military families, wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the survivors of the September 11th terrorist attacks and other victims of disasters:
“This is my duty,” he said. “The president is commander in chief, but the president is often ‘comforter in chief,’ as well. It is my duty … to try to comfort as best as I humanly can a loved one who is in anguish.”
Comfort can come in many different forms, the president said. “Comfort means hug, comfort means cry, comfort means smile, comfort means listen,” he said. “Comfort also means, in many cases, assure the parent or the spouse that any decision made about troops in combat will be made with victory in mind, not about my personal standing in the polls or partisan politics.”
Some military families objected to the ban, but most appreciated the consideration for their privacy shown by President Bush.
I was disturbed and saddened as I viewed today’s reports and video footage of the caskets; many members of my family have served in the Armed Services. My brother, who segued from a tour in the Army to the National Guard (he recently retired after 20 years of service), was called up to serve at the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. I’m grateful for his service and safe return to our family.
Along with other Americans, I honor the men and women who fight and die for the cause of liberty and offer prayers for their families.
However, what I find inexcusable is using such a serious moment – a soldier’s final return to his family and nation – for a photo op, mainstream media accolades and adoration and public relations maneuvers. Real leaders don’t stage-manage their images at the expense of our fallen warriors and their families.