Take a Picture, Lose Your Job

|

The woman who took that haunting photograph of flags draped over the coffins of U.S. soldiers has been fired by her employer, the military contractor Maytag Aircraft, for violating Pentagon and company policy in taking the picture. Maytag also fired her husband. Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Colin explained the rule: "We've made sure that all of the installations who are involved with the transfer of remains were aware that we do not allow any media coverage of any of the stops until [the casket] reaches its final destination."

NEXT: Racism! Racism! Racism!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Matt Welch,

    How about, “Break the Rules; Lose your job”?

    Not as catchy, huh?

    jennifer,

    “Since 1991, the Pentagon has banned the media from taking pictures of caskets being returned to the United States” – it is all Bush’s fault;)

    I wonder on what grounds they can fire the husband, though! That doesn’t make sense or sound right. He didn’t indicate any intention of suing the company – but that can change …

  2. I support Maytag’s right to fire whoever they damn well please, and I can understand the company’s responsibility to its stockholders (although firing the husband seems harsh based on my limited knowledge of the situation, still it was their decision to make.)

    OTOH, I also applaud the courage of the woman who took the picture and hope she’ll be no worse off for having done it.

  3. Zorel,
    I then amend my comment to “Since 1991, the Pentagon has been filled with more shit than usual.”

    This isn’t a matter of someone disseminating classified information. Everybody KNOWS these people are dying; we’re just not allowed to see them. I call bullshit.

    But the President did indeed make that comment about not wanting to see dead bodies.

    I don’t criticize this woman for breaking a rule which never should have been made in the first place.

  4. This isn’t a matter of someone disseminating classified information. Everybody KNOWS these people are dying; we’re just not allowed to see them. I call bullshit.

    The identities of the dead are public knowledge. If you want to see dead people, call up the families and ask if you can go gawk at their loved ones’ corpses for your own personal amusement.

  5. The White House will go to great lengths to cover their asses.

    A recent run-in with David Letterman comes to mind.

    Link HERE

    Synopsis: White House blows an artery because Letterman shows video with boy yawning while Bush speaks.

    Yet another example of how the current Admin. will decimate any and all who interfere with thier PR machine.

  6. Dan-
    We’re not talking about pictures of corpses with their faces blown off; we’re talking about anonymous caskets covered with American flags. This is not done to spare the feelings of the families; this is done to cover the President’s ass.

  7. By the way, to those of you who support this law: why? How is national security served by keeping pictures of caskets out of the public eye? I know Dubya said “Nobody wants to see it,” but surely national law should be based upon something more substantial than nicey-nice squeamishness.

  8. I don’t know, this policy seems to me to be a little bit of both “feelings” and “cya” oriented.

    But, on the whole, I think the policy is just plain stupid. We all know men and women are dying; what’s a picture of the coffins coming home gonna prove or disprove?

    If people want to take pictures of that kinda crap, fine. Personally, I think it a tad disrespectful (especially if used for political purposes), but I can also choose not to look at them. Eh.

  9. I would venture that the rules were put in place exactly to avoid pictures of corpses being deseminated. Seems a reasonable policy for a company to have – ‘prohibit media coverage of transfer of remains until the reach their destination’ – given the hyper sensitivity we have to the dead. However, as is almost always the case, rules get used in clever and opportunistic ways once they are in place. Hence I don’t think it’s unreasonable to support the companies descision to have the rule in place (and fire violators) while comdeming the “cover the President’s ass” aspect.
    -karl

  10. kmw,

    opened your link (article) and read this:

    – – – –
    “The folks at CNN got a kick out of it and the next morning, during “CNN Live Today,” ran the clip, crediting Letterman. CNN host Daryn Kagan quipped, “What is funnier, the kid or that everybody around him — not a single person even reacts to those high jinks?”

    Then CNN cut to commercial break. Right after the break, Kagan told viewers: “All right — had a good giggle before the break, that video was from David Letterman. We’re being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video, which would explain why the people around him weren’t really reacting. So, that from the White House.”

    That night, Letterman struck back. He showed Kagan telling viewers that the White House said the footage had been doctored.

    “Now that, ladies and gentlemen, as sure as I’m sitting here, is an out-and-out, 100 percent absolute lie. The kid absolutely was there and he absolutely was doing everything we pictured via the videotape.”

    Two comedy bits later, Letterman read one of his trademark cards that he’s always fiddling with, and started to laugh: “God almighty, my life just gets more and more complicated. You know, just a minute ago . . . I was ranting and raving about the White House. According to this, CNN has just phoned and, according to this information, the anchorwoman misspoke, they never got a comment from the White House. It was a CNN mistake.

    “What good does that do me? . . . I’ve already now called them liars. I think from now on we’re going to have to start looking into things,” Letterman said.

    – – – – – –

    CNN and Letterman fuckup (or have fun at someone else’s expense) and then blame each other/whitehouse … Somehow this is “Whitehouse going to great lengths to cover their ass”?

    could you please explain?

  11. There were no dead people in the photograph. Just flag-draped coffins. The question here is not one of propirety, but symbolism. The current administration wants to hide the bodies from the public, and the Pentagon will use it’s leverage to abet this policy.

    That is the problem here: Maytag fired an employee because if felt it had to.

  12. What’s the debate? Any true Libertarian will support Maytag’s right to fire the woman. The fact that she violated private company policy and disseminated the photos to the media is grounds for firing. I suspect her husband had somethng to do with the photos…

  13. Woman getting fired: Fine
    Husband geting fired: Unfair, I dislike it, but within private orgs right (still bad though)
    Law prohibiting pictures of non-descript caskets w/ flags: Very bad

  14. Jennifer,

    I don’t know if I support the law – but let me try to answer your question.

    Bodybags (caskets) are not a happy sight for the general public to see. They are only looking at a ‘cargo plane full of caskets’ in one shot, without any context (over a period of how long did these soldiers die, in what circumstances, what did they gain/achieve in the battle, etc.). A population that does not take the time to obtain information, simply sees the pictures, listens to “uncle Walter” and decides “we are losing in Vietnam big time”. The next thing we know, the country has a Vietnam syndrome – which takes 20-30 years and 2 or 4 successful wars to get over with. Hence the govt must have made this policy before 1991 gulf war.

    The above was simply my guess. Others will hopefully educte me. You can debate about the reasons

  15. Well, I hope Bush uses the photo for one of his hilarious “Nope, no WMD here!” lines.

  16. CNN and Letterman fuckup (or have fun at someone else’s expense) and then blame each other/whitehouse … Somehow this is “Whitehouse going to great lengths to cover their ass”?

    Nice. 🙂

    I’ve often found that politics to some is much like a religion: Whole lotta blind faith going on that the other side is somehow “evil.”

  17. Zorel-

    To explain, David Letterman didn’t fuck up AT ALL. He told the truth- That video was legitimate, and CNN claimed the White House had lied about it. CNN lied, and Letterman reacted to that lie- I don’t see that reaction as any kind of mistake.

    CNN definitely lied- the question is, was the statement or the retraction the lie?

    I’m normally in favor of giving people the benefit of the doubt until they’ve proved they don’t deserve it.

    I think both CNN and the White House have proved they don’t deserve it, but I have a hard time seeing CNN hallucinating that denial from the White House.

  18. Mo,

    Essentially agreed.

  19. zorel,

    This is a White House CYA because someone (presumably Karl Rove) told CNN that the video was a fake.

    Why would the White House even bother with a humorous video clip, unless they were trying to control their image/PR at all costs.

    That sounds like CYA to me.

  20. We’re not talking about pictures of corpses with their faces blown off; we’re talking about anonymous caskets covered with American flags.

    If you want to see the caskets of the dead soldiers, call the families and ask for permission to go look at them.

    This is not done to spare the feelings of the families; this is done to cover the President’s ass

    This is about using the dead bodies of soldiers for your own propaganda purposes. You know people react irrationally in circumstances like this, and you hope to exploit this fact for your own ends.

  21. CNN and Letterman fuckup (or have fun at someone else’s expense) and then blame each other/whitehouse … Somehow this is “Whitehouse going to great lengths to cover their ass”?

    I guess it isn’t, IF you swallow the story about the CNN anchor “misspeaking” an entire sentence mentioning the White House out of thin air. Twice.

  22. I don’t see why so many people are getting in a fuss about the pictures. Nicely stacked coffins with nice flags on them can only offend the most sensitive people. No one’s gawking at dead bodies, it’s silly. I rememeber seeing footage of the corpse of a US pilot shot down over Libya being hung from a pole. I was about 7 at the time and went to school with the man’s son and it wasn’t so disturbing that it warped me. People die in wars, we’re lucky that it’s so rarely Americans that get killed.

  23. My background is in Human Resources. Not a lawyer but I have had experience with employment law and with wrongful termination matters, and the whole “employment at will” (except for union workers and discriminatory practices) concept over the years.

    Let’s take this out of the context of coffins, the Pentagon, etc. Let’s lay a similar set of facts over a different workplace. Company: Its business is to process employee benefits transactions for their clients. Employee: An administrative person in the benefit processing section. Scene: Big room strewn full of paperwork, looking quite disorganized, and a supervisor pointing her finger at an associate (inference: maybe telling him to get this stuff organized).

    Employee takes a picture of this going on. Next week, it appears on the wire service, identifying the company, and with a little explanation about how this may be why your medical claims get screwed up.

    Company rule is that employees are only to communicate with the media on company matters after clearing it with management, PR, etc. Company handbook says that violation of published company rules can result in discipline, possibly termination.

    Personally, I would then not find it unreasonable to terminate the employee. Might not do so if I were running the company and the employee had a strong positive work history … but I would be hard pressed to argue long and hard against doing it if the rule was in place because the client (in this case the government) might penalize me (the contractor) for the action of the employee.

    The company’s case is strongest if the rule about media contact was closely worded and well communicated; pretty strong (in my opinion) even if the rule was a little vague, like “conduct that could be detrimental to the business” and it could be shown that employees were aware of the client’s aversion to its matters becoming public.

    I won’t comment on the termination of the husband …. not enough information about his role (or lack thereof) in whatever sequence of events led to this photo appearing.

  24. I think both CNN and the White House have proved they don’t deserve it, but I have a hard time seeing CNN hallucinating that denial from the White House

    Because it’s not like news organizations routinely fail to get even the most basic facts of a story correct or anything.

    While it is, admittedly, not a good idea to true to derive a general rule from personal experiences, I do know that, in *every* case where I have had direct personal knowledge of a story being reported by television or print media, the reporters have managed to completely bungle at least one major point in the story.

    So, yes, I find it very easy to believe that CNN could have “hallucinated” the “White House denial”. Probably some lazy reporter called some mid-level peon he knew and asked “Is this video for real?” and the clueless peon said “Uh, I doubt it” and the reporter put a little check mark next to “get White House denial” on his notepad without bothering to actually ask anyone on the record or find a person who even knew what video he was talking about.

    In any case, that scenario is a LOT more likely than the rival scenario: that CNN really did get an on-the-record denial of the tape, and decided to lie and cover for the White House instead of running with a “White House Coverup!” storyline.

    IF you swallow the story about the CNN anchor “misspeaking” an entire sentence mentioning the White House out of thin air. Twice.

    I don’t swallow that story at all. I think CNN just figured saying “We misspoke. Twice” was less damaging, to them, than saying “We, the world’s biggest cable news network, aren’t capable of competent journalism.”

  25. The bored little boy in question was later a guest on Letterman, and he said he got a personal letter from Bush joking about how he could see how the boy would find the whole thing boring, etc. (I don’t remember many details of this letter or the interview; anyone else see it?)

  26. “This is about using the dead bodies of soldiers for your own propaganda purposes.”

    One man’s propaganda is another’s useful info. Either way, calling it propaganda doesn’t nullify its being covered under the 1st Amendment. In fact, other than its ambiguous connotation of being nefarious, propaganda is probably what the framers of the constitution most explicitly had in mind for what they wanted to protect.

  27. Land of the Free, NOT!

    Americans are as much pawns to the rules as in many a dictatorship. What’s worse, they don’t even realise it, hence don’t question the rules. Like lemmings, they just enforce and follow. Too many seem just utterly incapable of reflecting on themselves. That’s called arrogance.
    Keep on following your silly rules and punishing those that don’t bend to your will!

  28. Good Job Martin,
    You tell the Sheeple! You’re the man, you know, if only all people were as smart as you….

  29. Martin, do us a favor: don’t help us!! 🙂

  30. Wasn’t one of the driving forces behind the policy to allow no pictures the charges that the administration at the time was using pictures of returning coffins as a political tool?

    Sounds like ‘Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t’.

  31. So, yes, I find it very easy to believe that CNN could have “hallucinated” the “White House denial”.

    Dan, that was a good explanation. Although I have little problem believing the sinister version where the White House backpedals to cover itself, you’re version is probably a lot more likely.

  32. I’m sure the government didn’t pressure the company to fire her….nah, they would never do something like that.

  33. Highway,

    That’s interesting if true. But better to be damned for allowing freedom than for repressing it. Then people can decide for themselves whose side the publication of such photos favors. Remembr, we’re talking about allowing the publication of such photos, not making it mandatory!

  34. Another problem solved!

  35. I can see how a business may have a problem with an employee taking pictures at work and then passing them to the media.

  36. I think there is yet another intriguing dimension to this.

    But first — In my earlier post I constructed a private sector scenario where an employee takes pictures at work and then gives/sells them to the media, and how a company could logically object to that and discipline the employee. Another illustration of that, before I get to the main point of this post — consider the case of Steve Bartman, the guy who caught the infamous foul ball at the Cubs playoff game. He is a working stiff, and what if someone at that company took his picture at work, after this happened, and passed it on to the Chicago Tribune? I’m sure there was a market for it, and may STILL be. I’d fire that employee in a heartbeat.

    But here is my primary point. I can understand the military having a prohibition against a contractor’s employees even taking photos (let alone passing them on to the media) of wartime activities. Now, we know that THESE spcific photos were (almost certainly) harmless from a military intelligence and security perspective, but is it not sensible to have a rule that says “no photos” except in “social” settings away from the actual work being performed? If the rule were, instead: “no photos of sensitive operations”; or,”no photos that would give the enemy insight into what our military operations are doing” —- those are very reasonable rules, but also impossible to interpret. Who is to say what is “sensitive” or “valuable” to the enemy? How do we feel about a civilian worker and part-time photographer making those calls?

    My rule, if I were running the war, would be “no photos” by contractor employees while “on duty” performing their tasks. Easy to understand and easy to enforce. If someone violates the rule, and the only people to see the photos are Mom and Dad and spouse back home, well there is not likely to be any commotion. But when the photo shows up on the wire services — that’s a different story. If you don’t enforce the rule under that scenario, no matter how “harmless” the photo may seem, you jeopardize the rule itself.

    I think we have to be careful not to knee-jerk our way to concluding the firing is indefensible, unjust, paranoid …. that’s all I am trying to do.

    Consider, also: if a photojournalist had gotten access to coffins and had taken the photo, I suppose there would be a “freedom of the press” issue if the administration tried to stop its publication. I don’t think that’s the case here. This photographer was on the scene because of a job she was doing for a client, not a newspaper.

    I’ll shut up now.

  37. I’m dismayed by how many folks here just shrug off the real issue–a fascist administration trying — with a remarkable degree of success–to keep the American public from having any visual clues as to what is going on in Iraq. The Bushies know most people form their ideas and feeling based more on images than fact.

    If we had truly responsible media, we’d be seeing and hearing dying human beings in Iraq on a daily basis. “Objective reporting” about a war without showing death and suffering is simply pro-war propaganda.

  38. Quoth the President: “Americans don’t want to see dead bodies on their TV screens.”

    (It’s okay to MANUFACTURE dead bodies; just don’t let anybody see ’em.)

  39. The wife? Ok, she violated the rules, she pays the price.

    But the husband didn’t seem to do anything wrong.

  40. A private employer should be able to fire it’s employees if they endanger valuable contracts and risk the business’ financial future.

    And while taking a picture was involved, I think an important step was missing. Should read:Take a picture, give/sell it to the media, lose your job.

    If some one at microsoft photocopied sheets of paper with information they were told was not to be distributed to the public, gave/sold these photocopies to the media and was subsequently fired would you have a headline “make a photocopy, lose your job”? Or would it not even be worth a post (unless you are a maccie of course)?

  41. It’s very scary to see private companies helping the government’s censorship campaign.

    Do Maytag employer contracts specify that one can be fired for the behavior of one’s spouse?

  42. They shouldn’t fire the husband……should shoot the wife, imho.

  43. At 01:20 on 2004-Apr-23, “A Different Sean” writes:

    For those of you who are so adamant that pictures should be allowed: What f-ing right do you have to see them??

    The families can expect some privacy about the whole thing, their loved ones remains being brought home. It should not be assumed to be public just because they go through an airport. If you ask each and every family to be allowed to print the pictures, that should be perfectly legal. But otherwise… who the hell do you think you are?

    US military personnel are, in the name of the United States of America and the people thereof, engaged in, um, foreign policy activities. As such, they are, to a degree, “public figures,” and public figures have always had a diminished expectation of privacy. Methinks this is discussed in the AP Stylebook and Libel Manual (which I admittedly haven’t had eyeballs on in many, many years).

    JMJ

  44. Well, I will agree that the law against taking photographs is a bit harsh… BUT:

    For those of you who are so adamant that pictures should be allowed: What f-ing right do you have to see them??

    The families can expect some privacy about the whole thing, their loved ones remains being brought home. It should not be assumed to be public just because they go through an airport. If you ask each and every family to be allowed to print the pictures, that should be perfectly legal. But otherwise… who the hell do you think you are?

    At the moment I’m siding with keeping the law as-is simply because I know what kind of assholes are going to abuse it. If you want to overturn it, get permission from the families whose loved ones remains are returning on the flight. Get and print the picture. Then go to court when the goverment goes after you even when you had the families’ permission. Can’t find the families? Can’t get the permission? Then fuck off.

  45. Okay, sorry for the bits o’ profanity in there.

    Also, I think the photos that were printed were quite tasteful. It showed that the caskets are treated quite respectfully.

    However, comments such as: “It’s okay to MANUFACTURE dead bodies; just don’t let anybody see ’em,” get under my skin.

  46. If you goddamn ignorant kunts want to take pictures of the caskets of returning soldiers, go get a law passed.
    Didn’t Klinton issue the order?

  47. I think it’s telling that certain people considering sending a bunch of young men off to die less offensive than a photograph of their flag draped coffins.

  48. Joe-
    I guess the idea is that killing guys won’t damage their right to privacy, but showing their coffins would.

  49. Hey, twits, if I was to go take a photo of Arlington cemetery and print it all nice and pretty on a black-bordered poster above a lovely typeset Gettysburg Address, that would be all patriotic and “dulce et decorum” and stuff, right?

    But when some chick wants to take a picture of the honored dead in their coffins in order to make sure their sacrifice is not forgotten, trivialized, or unnecessarily repeated, oh, well, that’s gotta be Anti-American somehow. Against the rules. Hang ‘er high.

  50. John,
    I understand that argument, but I’m not sure it’s entirely applicable to their coffins. There was one photo of a dead soldier surrounded by his friends. This, I would say, was definitely public. If a photographer wants to hang out outside of a field hospital, and take pictures of all the casualties coming in, that would be okay (though depraved).
    But I’m skeptical of their “public figure, no expectation of privacy” status when their remains are brought back. I think the families should have the choice whether to make their sons’ and daughters’ returns public or not. I could understand why some families wouldn’t want a spectacle made out of it. And I could see many families wanting them to have a publicly honored return.
    However, I’m a bit annoyed at the “Let’s see the coffins! We deserve to see the coffins!,” attitude. They don’t seem to have any respect for the soldiers or their families.

  51. I just love how many posts blame President Bush for a ruling made by the Pentagon in 1991.

    But more than that, I love it that so many of these posts were made after Zorel pointed out this fact.

    Anti-Bushies seems to have closed minds, closed eyes, closed ears, and open mouths.

  52. Interesting that thememoryhole.org, where Russ Kick originally published similar photos obtained through the Freedom of Info Act from the USAF, seems to have disappeared overnight…

  53. Er- sorry… it just came back up.

  54. fyodor,

    You are absolutely right that a pro-liberty policy is better than an anti-liberty policy. I would also disagree with any such policy as the current one were these public planes, or at public airports. But I think that the limited-access nature of the planes and AF bases that are in question would naturally lead to biases in the access granted to photographers, which really opens up the exposure of the administration (any administration) to charges of propaganda and selection bias. Therefore, I can understand that a blanket ban in this case is a better policy than allowing pictures, since there could not be adequate access to all.

  55. The woman is just more paparazzi
    and the dead in the caskets are victims again,
    this time of political pimps of the dead.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.