Thursday, December 09, 2004

Beyond the Camera's Reach

President Bush's visit to a military base in California a couple of days ago was dismissed by my editors as just a PR stunt. But Blackfive notes something that the MSM overlooked -- perhaps because the MSM wasn't invited to attend. Bush spent much of the day doing something that he's often accused of never doing: he met with the families of men who had lost their lives in Iraq:

...we had the lead for the POTUS visit and I was privileged to spend much of the day with him. Let me tell you something that was, very deliberately, not in the news. President Bush came here for two reasons. To thank the Marines and sailors of Camp Pendleton for all they do, and to meet with the families of our fallen warriors. The first part was public. The second - and I believe far more important - was to meet privately with 170 family members who had lost a loved one. He forbade the press corps from viewing or photographing any of it.

The Plt Sgt Mitchell Paige Fieldhouse (a brand new $12.5m facility) has two basketball courts. One was curtained off and decks covered where he met with them together. Then, he met with the family members of each fallen Marine in the other gym individually. Having had the duty of a Casualty Assistance and Notification Officer many times in the past, I know how emotionally draining it is to talk to even one family at a time. When we put the President back on Marine One some three hours later, he was as somber and drained as I've ever seen him. It took an emotional toll on everyone involved.

So, because the newspaper photographers and TV station cameras weren't allowed in the room, the thing itself is not news? Does the fact that the government tells you not to take a picture of something mean you don't report it? Since when? That's not the kind of media I thought we had.

While I'm at it, the photo wire last night had 155 pictures relating to dead U.S. servicemen from Iraq -- portrait or casual photos of them in life, photos of their funerals and of their hollow-eyed grieving relatives, and plenty of pictures of their flag-draped caskets. That's twice as many pictures as their were dead servicemen in the recent bloodiest month of the war.

I don't get the complaint about lack of access to Dover AFB to get footage of the coffins as they roll off the transport planes. I can't see what that would add to what's already out there, except to pile on more hues to the picture of America being defeated. Yet the mere fact of denial of access in that case has become a major media story.