#TBT: Ohio Newspapers, Boehner Criticize Use of War Casualties in Political Ads

Flash Forward: Portman Refusing to Answer Calls from Veterans to Stop Running Ad with Flag-Draped Coffins

COLUMBUS – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman this week is refusing to answer the calls of veterans asking him to apologize and discontinue a political attack ad that uses a photo of service members killed in the Iraq War he supported.

  • Iraq War veteran and Vote Vets Chairman Jon Soltz told Cleveland.com that Portman needs to “apologize to the families of the fallen for using the photo of their loved one’s casket for his own political purposes.”

  • Iraq War veteran and former Ohio Congressman John Boccieri told Cleveland.com, “Using sacred images of our heroes to further a political agenda is not only vulgar, but cheapens the sacrifice of those young men and women who gave it all.”

  • And, former state Rep. and Air Force veteran Connie Pillich told the Columbus Dispatch Portman’s use of the photo “kind of makes my skin crawl,” is “beyond the pale” and “highly disrespectful.”

But the history of criticism over exploiting photos of fallen service members in political ads goes back well before this week. Both the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Toledo Blade criticized politicians for using photos of flag-draped coffins or victims of 9/11 in political ads in 2004. Ohio Congressman and House Speaker John Boehner even called the use of flag-draped coffins in ads “disgraceful” and “appalling” in 2006.

In 2004, the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board wrote that “coffins should not become politicized” and politicians should not “use any images of those who have fallen as political props.”

“The government is wrong in trying to keep the public from seeing flag-draped coffins of America’s war dead as they are brought home for burial. Casualties are the cost of war, and by trying to downplay that cost, the government is demeaning the sacrifice. The more the government objects to the dissemination of the pictures, the greater will be the public anger and suspicion over the secrecy. The impact of seeing coffins should not become politicized, but this could happen if the situation is not handled properly. Neither presidential candidate John Kerry or President George Bush should use any images of those who have fallen as political props, whether they are on a cargo plane at Dover or being carried from the remains of the World Trade Center after 9-11.” [Cincinnati Enquirer editorial, 4/25/04]

In 2006, Ohio Congressman and House Speaker John Boehner called the use of flag-draped coffins in political ads “disgraceful” and “appalling.”

It’s disgraceful that … the Democrats would use images of caskets of dead American soldiers to raise money. I think they should pull the advertisement immediately and sincerely apologize to our men and women in uniform and their families and the American people.”

“We have American men and women who have gone to foreign shores to defend our freedom. They have died and made sacrifices on behalf of the American people. And to use those images to rally Democrats and to raise money I think is appalling,” he said. [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/14/06]

In 2004, the Toledo Blade editorial board criticized imagery of September 11th victims in campaign ads.

“A Pentagon rule instituted in 1991 and revived in 2003 prohibits media coverage of the return of war casualties prior to their funerals. Officials claim the regulation is necessary to protect the privacy of the families of the dead, that war dead, as one official said, ‘should not be subject to any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified.’ Such reasoning might be easier to accept if a certain high government official – you know who we mean – hadn’t used flag-draped human remains from another national tragedy, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in his campaign television commercials. Indeed, the Pentagon’s attempt at secrecy and censorship appears intended to allow the administration to disassociate itself in the public eye from the deadly consequences of its own policies.” [Toledo Blade Editorial, 4/27/04]