By: Greg Mitchell
It all began with an April 24, 2008 column in The Washington Post by Dana Milbank. It began, ?Lt. Col. Billy Hall, one of the most senior officers to be killed in the Iraq war, was laid to rest yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Pentagon doesn’t want you to know that.?
Today, more than two months later, Milbank returns to the story ? with news that the public affairs director at Arlington seems to have agreed with that assessment, and has now been fired, quite possibly as punishment. In an added online comment, he reveals that he gave her superiors a few chances to deny, or prove, that retribution was not a factor, and they declined.
Milbank had written back in April: ?The family of 38-year-old Hall, who leaves behind two young daughters and two stepsons, gave their permission for the media to cover his Arlington burial — a decision many grieving families make so that the nation will learn about their loved ones’ sacrifice. But the military had other ideas, and they arranged the Marine’s burial yesterday so that no sound, and few images, would make it into the public domain.
?That’s a shame, because Hall’s story is a moving reminder that the war in Iraq, forgotten by much of the nation, remains real and present for some.?
Today?s column is titled, ?Putting Her Foot Down and Getting the Boot.? Milbank explains: ?When Gina Gray took over as the public affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery about three months ago, she discovered that cemetery officials were attempting to impose new limits on media coverage of funerals of the Iraq war dead — even after the fallen warriors’ families granted permission for the coverage. She said that the new restrictions were wrong and that Army regulations didn’t call for such limitations.
?Six weeks after The Washington Post reported her efforts to restore media coverage of funerals, Gray was demoted. Twelve days ago, the Army fired her. ?Had I not put my foot down, had I just gone along with it and not said regulations were being violated, I’m sure I’d still be there,? said the jobless Gray, who, over lunch yesterday in Crystal City, recounted what she is certain is her retaliatory dismissal. “It’s about doing the right thing.”
?Army Secretary Pete Geren, in an interview last night, said he couldn’t comment on Gray’s firing. But he said the overall policy at Arlington is correct. ?It appears to me that we’ve struck the right balance, consistent with the wishes of the family,? the secretary said.?
Gray got her termination notice on June 27.
In an ABC commentary, Sam Donaldson observed: “Gina’s superiors are probably right. It is far easier to support a war policy if you don’t see that people are actually dying in the cause … unless of course, the public supports the cause as it did in World War II when the mothers who lost their sons put a ‘gold star’ in their windows for all to see, bereft at their loss but proud of the sacrifice on behalf of the country.
“No, you have to try to suppress the pictures of the fallen when the pubic doesn’t believe the mission is worth it. Out of sight, out of mind.
“So, Gina had to go.”
Greg Mitchell’s new book includes several chapters on controversies over visual images of the war. It is titled, “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.”