Military fires public affairs official for refusing to limit press at funerals
The Department of Defense has attempted for years to manipulate popular opinion towards the war in Iraq by limiting press coverage of military funerals.
When Gina Gray, a media specialist with a long history of working with the military, became public affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this year, she found that officials there had started hampering media coverage even in cases where the families gave permission. When she tried to uphold the existing regulations, she was harassed by her supervisor, demoted, and then fired.
Gray appeared on MSNBC's Verdict with David Shuster on Thursday for her first live interview, along with her attorney, Mark Zaid, who has a history of involvement in high-profile cases involving government secrecy.
"I had no idea I was going to be fired," Gray explained, "but I certainly ... butted heads. ... I wanted there to be clear rules ... and cemetery officials felt like they were the exception to the rule, that they didn't have to play by the same rules."
"It's up to the families to decide how close or far away they want the media to be," Gray continued. "It is not up to Arlington Cemetery officials to do that." In the case that first brought Gray into conflict with her supervisors, the media area had been placed 50 yards away from the gravesite, obstructing the view of photographers and making the service inaudible.
Shuster next turned to Roy Sekoff of the Huffington Post, who stated, "This is part and parcel of the Bush administration's policy of trying to keep the human toll of the Iraq War hidden. ... They talk about sacrifice, they like to use it as an applause line in a stump speech, but they don't want the American people to see that that sacrifice also includes grieving widows and kids who are never going to have a dad."
Shuster then returned to Gray, asking about her termination notice, which complained, "You have failed to follow my instructions ... failed to provide me with complete details for your work assignments, been disrespectful to me as your supervisor and failed to act in an inappropriate [sic] manner."
"I'm guilty of not acting inappropriately," Gray noted wryly. She went on to explain, "Army public affairs did step in and did try to make the changes. But you have a deputy director, Thurman Higginbotham, who has been there for over 30 years and is kind of running the show on his own. He's making up the rules as he goes along."
Mark Zaid added that this was a matter of a "hostile work environment, not just for Gina but her two predecessors."
"There is an administrative action pending under the Equal Employment Opportunity Office," Zaid stated. "You're going to see some skeletons unearthed at Arlington."
This video is from MSNBC's Verdict, broadcast July 10, 2008.