Thursday, September 15, 2005

Katrina Embeds

There's been quite a bit of discussion lately about the move to try to keep photographers from photographing bodies found in New Orleans (see this, this and my take here). In comments over at Body and Soul, I defended the Army -- which had been blamed for actually blocking photographers on the ground -- this way:
That's bullshit. The Army has no such policy (trust me on this) and, even if it did, it doesn't have the authority to enforce such a policy. The few soldiers down there that have a law enforcement mission are only allowed to enforce the laws on the books, not arbitrary restrictions on reporters in a public space.

Posted by: nitpicker | Sep 14, 2005 1:41:45 PM

Follow-up at TPM:
A spokesman for the General in charge of Army operations in Louisiana says that the Army is not imposing any restrictions on the press operating on their own in the region.

This is in response to the article which appeared yesterday which quoted soldiers with the 82nd Airborne forbidding reporters to photograph or write about body removal.

"We don't profess to have any more authority than we have," says Lt. Col. John Cornelio. "You also have to appreciate we have 70,000 soldiers. There can be a 'Joe' or two who doesn't get it."
I actually buy this. The Army knows it can't kick people out of Louisiana. If we couldn't kick people out of Herat province, we sure as hell can't kick them out of NOLA.

Posted by: nitpicker | Sep 14, 2005 2:09:57 PM
But guess what? The Army let me down. No, they're not kicking people out of Louisiana, but pay close attention to the wording above. "(T)he Army is not imposing any restrictions on the press operating on their own in the region."

I am a National Guard Public Affairs soldier, so I know what the policies have been. In Afghanistan, journalists who wanted not only to "embed" with units, but also to have the press badges which qualified them for access to press conferences, had to sign an agreement which kept them from doing certain things. There was nothing in these guidelines that I found very limiting. For example, you could embed with special forces, but you couldn't take an identifiable picture of their faces. I don't have a problem with that.

I do have a problem with this, which I received in an e-mail to my Army webmail account today. What "Joe" wrote this?
National Guard Bureau

Office of Public Affairs

Embed Guidelines

Images of the Deceased

The following are the official ground rules of the National Guard regarding the capturing of images of deceased persons while embedded with National Guard personnel.

The overriding philosophy behind this policy is the total respect and dignity for the victims of Hurricane Katrina as well as their family and friends.

Embedded journalists will not be allowed to participate or remain with units involved in the National Guard recovery operations. During search and rescue, embedded journalists will not capture images (still or video) of the recognizable remains of a deceased person or persons. Journalists must ensure that the victim is covered entirely before images are captured. (Photos of uncovered remains - that are not recognizable - may be permitted by the commander of the embedded unit, but these concerns are to be addressed on a case-by-case scenario.)

These guidelines recognize the inherent Constitutional right of free speech of the media in covering military operations and are in no way intended to prevent release of derogatory, embarrassing, negative or non-complimentary information.

Acceptance of this policy is an agreement between you and the National Guard. You agree to follow these ground rules and the command will provide support, access to military members, information and other privileges. Violation of these ground rules, however, may result in your permanent removal as an embedded journalist with any the National Guard unit.

"I (insert name) ____________________, am (insert job description) __________________ in the employ of __________________ (insert news organization), have read the aforementioned media policy and agree, with my signature, to abide by them. I also understand that violation of these ground rules is cause for the revocation of my embed with the National Guard."

(Signature block) [Emphasis Nitpicker's]
In other words, take the wrong photo and we won't drive you around, we won't let you talk to our soldiers, we won't give you information and, um, don't even ask about other privileges.

Again, I've written before about the uses of photographs of bodies and, no, I don't think the clearly identifiable photo of a corpse is justifiable, but I do not believe that the Army National Guard should be threatening journalists in order to get them to do what they want.

Update: For the e-mailer who asked about how I expect the military to act, I would point out that the following (um, and slight color-blindness that kept me out of P-3s) is why I joined Public Affairs. An excerpt from Field Manual 46-1, Public Affairs Operations:
The requirement for the Army to conduct Public Affairs derives from Title 10, U.S. Code which states that the Secretary of the Army is responsible for public affairs and will establish the Office of Public Affairs. Implicit in a government of the people, by the people and for the people are the concepts that the people have a right to know about the activities of the government, and the government has an obligation to inform the people about its activities. These principles also apply to information about the activities of the military, which is established in the Constitution of the United States to “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” One of the most significant conduits through which information is passed to the people is the free press guaranteed by the Constitution. Since the nation’s founding, the Army has communicated information to the American people through the media.
Read to the bottom and you find, in Appendix A, the "DoD Principles of Information," which I include here in their entirety, knowing full well they are no longer operable under the current administration:
It is the policy of the Department of Defense to make available timely and accurate information so that the public, Congress, and the news media may assess and understand the facts about national security and defense strategy.

Request for information from organizations and private citizens will be answered in a timely manner: In carrying out this policy, the following principles of nformation will apply:
•Information will be made fully and readily available, consistent with statutory requirements, unless its release is precluded by current and valid security classification. The provisions of the Freedom of Information Act will be supported in both letter and spirit.

•A free flow of general and military information will be made available, without censorship or propaganda, to the men and women of the Armed Forces and their family members.

•Information will not be classified or otherwise withheld to protect the government from criticism or embarrassment.

•Information will be withheld only when disclosure would adversely affect national security or threaten the safety or privacy of the men and women of the Armed Forces.

•The Department’s obligation to provide the public with information on its major programs may require detailed public affairs planning and coordination within the Department and with other government agencies. The sole purpose of such activity is to expedite the flow of information to the public: propaganda has no place in the Department of Defense public affairs programs.
An example of the "Media Ground Rules" used in Desert Storm make up Appendix E.


Anonymous PhilTR said...

Each and every discovered Katrina and even non-Katrina victim should, no must be documented. This documentation not only has a historical basis but also is a necessary aide in establishing civil and possible criminal liability. Once the victim is moved evidence by necessity is destroyed clearly not in anyone's interests. So I would hope those who want to prevent the public from ever baring witness to this tragedy would reconsider what they are doing and can find it within themselves draw upon their better selves, put politics aside, and encourage the proper documentation of this truly historical event.

11:23 AM  

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