James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Faces of the fallen’

American flag fetishists and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2010

Today is one of those days when some conservatives like to pretend they’re more patriotic than the rest of us–and now, despite their all-too-common ignorance about such things as the U.S. Flag Code, even more patriotic than their president.

Such goofiness started before Barack Obama was elected, of course, but shows no sign of letting up. And if they have to lie to make a “patriotic” point, well, many talking heads and conservative bloggers apparently will do that, too. Take, for example, the claim that Obama is the first president (or the first “since the Civil War“) not to visit Arlington National Cemetary for Memorial Day.

That’s a blatant and easy-to-check lie, as previous “offenders” have included both George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and–gasp–Ronald Reagan. But, interestingly, never draft dodger Bill Clinton.

Or how about the claim (here, here, herehere and here, among others) that Obama is the first American president to give a news conference while not standing beside or in front of an American flag? Several even claim to have researched the issue, presumably so gullible readers won’t have to.

But a fairly brief Google search demonstrates that the claim also is a lie, with no American flags visible in news conferences from previous presidents that include George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and–gasp!–Ronald Reagan (examples below).

I suspect that some staffer forgot to move the flags from the side of the room–where the podium usually sits for East Room press conferences–to the end of the room. I think that’s a mistake, but it’s not like the president has nothing else to worry about.

And the mistake, if that’s what it was, is hardly on the level of, say, confusing Walter Reed Military Hospital with Walter Reed Middle School during the nominee’s speech at the Republican National Convention, or having the wrong speech on the teleprompter during a State of the Union address.

Frankly, of the many things for which Obama should be criticized, the patriotism angle is perhaps the silliest (though that’s difficult to judge considering various communist/socialist/Kenyon/Muslim claims). When it comes to press conferences, a bigger question than that of what’s behind the president is what’s behind his reticence to have such sessions at all, despite his supposed commitment to openness and the fact that we seem to see him everywhere.

Also worth noting: Never ones to let consistency get in the way of a good presidential bashing, it wasn’t long ago that a leading conservative newspaper suggested that Obama was surrounding himself with too many American flags. All in all, the anti-Obama posts once again demonstrate that the supposed defenders of American values care less about respecting the flag or America’s fallen dead than they do about disrespecting their president.

Same-day update: The writer of the “since the Civil War” post linked above has corrected his erroneous headline, which apparently he had based on another bad source. He still maintains that Obama should have been at Arlington, and frankly I tend to agree. But as noted above, Obama is hardly the first to honor vets elsewhere on Memorial Day, and he has spent more time on the job than his immediate predecessor did.

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Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Soldiers still dying, but at least photos may be unburied

Posted by James McPherson on February 26, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces today that the Pentagon is overturning a Bushian policy that pretends dead soldiers don’t exist. (The ban on pictures of flag-draped coffins actually started under George H.W. Bush during the Persian Gulf War–another war in the region, as I and others have pointed out–that might never have begun without a misleading public relations effort.)

There have been occasional breaks from the official ban, but its reversal is overdue. Those favoring rejection of the “Dover policy” included the Army Times and the National Press Photographers Association. Families, who are split on the issue but mostly seem to favor the ban (apparently trusting the government more than they do the media, despite their losses), will still be allowed to keep the press away from their own deceased loved ones.

Call today’s action a partial victory for reason. After 9/11, George W. Bush told us to “go shopping.” In the meantime, the real price for his ensuing folly has remained largely hidden. You can get a better picture of that cost with two databases from the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Same-day update: Those who would protest overturning the ban might want to check out how sensitive and sensible the media can be at times of tragedy. Pulitzer Prize-winning Rocky Mountain News photographer Todd Heisler and reporter Jim Sheeler produce “A Final Salute” about a fallen Marine. Unfortunately, the News is closing its doors tomorrow, another in a recent series of great newspaper losses. Web content may be fine, but the best of it is still produced by the mainstream news organizations that are now going under.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »