How to Handle Photos of Flag-Draped Coffins

February 18, 2009 discussion, lead

From: Al Tompkins,

Flag-draped coffins arrive from Iraq and Afghanistan every week — mostly out of public sight. While the Bush administration banned photographs of the arrival ceremonies, the Obama administration is now considering lifting the ban.

This raises several important questions for journalists: What should our response be if the ban is lifted? How would we explain the importance of the photographs to the public? How will we buffer the inevitable charges of voyeurism and even, I am sure, anti-patriotism?

I interviewed Poynter’s Ethics Group Leader Kelly McBride and Poynter’s Visual Journalism Group Leader Kenny Irby on Tuesday about how to ethically cover these kinds of situations.

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