Following Drudge, media outlets seize on Obama decision -- years ago -- to stop wearing flag pin

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Several media outlets -- following the lead of Internet gossip Matt Drudge -- have presented Obama's comments on not wearing an American flag pin as a recent decision made by the candidate, and not an explanation of something he chose to do several years ago. CNN, ABC, and Fox News have reported on the "controversy," providing a platform for several conservatives to attack Obama's patriotism. As NBC News' Chuck Todd put it, "this was the media getting a classic case of the Drudges."

During an October 3 interview with ABC-affiliate KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was asked why he was not wearing an American flag pin on his lapel. Obama responded, "[R]ight after 9-11, I had a pin," adding: "Shortly after 9-11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security." Obama also said: "I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and, hopefully, that will be a testimony to my patriotism." However, several media outlets -- following the lead of Internet gossip Matt Drudge -- have presented Obama's comments as a recent decision made by the candidate, and not an explanation of something he chose to do several years ago. CNN, ABC, and Fox News have reported on the "controversy," providing a platform for several conservatives to attack Obama's patriotism. As NBC News political director Chuck Todd put it, "this was the media getting a classic case of the Drudges."

According to an October 4 entry on The New York Times' The Caucus blog, the KCRG interview "passed with little notice until ... the Associated Press moved a story that included the quotes from Mr. Obama" on October 4, adding that Obama's campaign aides, "concerned that his remarks might be portrayed as unpatriotic, chose not to let the moment pass." According to the Caucus, Obama addressed the issue during an October 4 campaign event in Iowa, saying:

OBAMA: Somebody noticed I wasn't wearing a flag lapel pin and I told folks, well you know what? I haven't probably worn that pin in a very long time. I wore it right after 9/11. But after a while, you start noticing people wearing a lapel pin, but not acting very patriotic. Not voting to provide veterans with resources that they need. Not voting to make sure that disability payments were coming out on time.

My attitude is that I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart. And you show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who served. You show your patriotism by being true to our values and our ideals and that's what we have to lead with is our values and our ideals.

Drudge first highlighted the story on October 4 at 2:15 p.m. ET under the headline: "Obama Ditches American Flag Pin: Has Become a Substitute for 'True Patriotism' ..." While the AP article to which Drudge linked used the misleading headline "Obama Stops Wearing Flag Pin," it made clear that Obama "said he stopped doing so [wearing the pin] shortly after the attacks and instead hoped to show his patriotism by explaining his ideas to citizens." At 2:33 p.m., Drudge made the story his banner headline, shortening it to: "Obama Drops American Flag Pin."

Following Drudge, other media outlets began reporting that Obama's decision not to wear the pin is a recent one, often mischaracterizing Obama's statements. On the October 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer reported:

BLITZER: Democrat Barack Obama says he stopped wearing the American flag on his lapel -- that's come to symbolize patriotism since the 9-11 attacks. Obama tells an Iowa TV station he's decided he doesn't need to wear a pin on his chest and, instead, will show his patriotism by explaining his ideas for the country.

On the October 4 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, co-host John Gibson claimed that Obama "declare[d], 'I'm not going to wear a flag pin,' " while conservative radio host Laura Ingraham added, "[I]t just shows you, once again, that he was not ready for prime time." From the October 4 edition of The Big Story with Gibson and Nauert:

GIBSON: You know, Laura, one of the things that Obama did today, and I -- you know, tell me how this works, when he's so far behind -- is he declares, "I'm not going to wear a flag pin. I'm not going to wear that thing."

INGRAHAM: Brilliant.

GIBSON: "I'm going to show my patriotism some other way."

INGRAHAM: Well --

GIBSON: How is that helpful?

INGRAHAM: Well, you know, it's -- it just shows you, once again, that he was not ready for prime time. And for all this build-up, and Oprah having the big party for him, and raising all this money, and he was really savvy on the Internet -- none of it mattered. You're going up against the most formidable Democrat [sic] couple ever, probably.

I mean, what's the last two-term Democrat [sic] president before the Clintons that you can think of? I mean, we go back a ways. So, you have to come out and you have to start swinging early on. He never did that.

On the October 4 broadcast of ABC's World News, host Charles Gibson introduced a report on Obama's remarks by saying that there is "something of a controversy that has erupted involving Democratic Senator Barack Obama, and a lapel pin." In the subsequent report, ABC News correspondent David Wright noted that Obama was responding to a KCRG reporter's question when he made the remarks, and that he wore a pin "shortly after 9-11." Wright also included a quote from Fox News host Sean Hannity attacking Obama during his ABC Radio Networks program:

WRIGHT: Today, in Iowa, some Obama supporters applauded that decision.

CARRIE HAURUM (Obama supporter): He doesn't need to wear that flag on his lapel; he wears it in his heart.

WRIGHT: But others may not like it at all.

HANNITY: Why do we wear pins? Because our country was under attack.

WRIGHT: And some may use it for political advantage.

Hannity continued to attack Obama during the October 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, as did Kate Obenshain, the former head of Virginia's Republican Party, identified on the show as being affiliated with the conservative Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute:

HANNITY: Let me ask Kate. Kate, this is the point: Barack Obama accused our troops of killing civilians, air-raiding villages, when there's no evidence. We've had a series of incidents: They've been compared to Nazis by leaders of the Democrats. [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] said the troops have lost the war and the surge has failed. And what's bothersome to me here is the American flag on your lapel ought not be politicized.

OBENSHAIN: It ought not to be. And regardless of how you feel politically about the war, we are at war. Our men and women are in harm's way. Somebody wants to be commander-in-chief should have pride in our country enough to wear the lapel, continue to wear the lapel pin on their jacket during this campaign.

ABC and Wright reported on the "something of a controversy" again during the October 5 broadcast of Good Morning America. And once again, Wright's report included an audio clip of Hannity attacking Obama:

WRIGHT: This week, a reporter for ABC's Cedar Rapids affiliate was the first to notice.

OBAMA: You know, the truth is that, right after 9-11, I had a pin.

WRIGHT: But Obama said he eventually decided to stop wearing the pin.

OBAMA: That became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security. I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest.

WRIGHT: The comments kicked up a hornets' nest.

HANNITY: Why do we wear pins? Because our country was under attack.

WRIGHT: The obsession with flag pins is relatively new: Ike didn't wear one; JFK either. Nixon did wear the flag.

As Media Matters for America has documented, on the October 5 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, former radio host Mark Williams claimed that Obama "took his flag pin off after 9-11, and he felt, apparently, some sort of an affinity or some sort of a connection, because at that point he felt it OK to come out of the closet as the domestic insurgent he is."

On the October 5 edition of MSNBC Live, Todd claimed that the "controversy" was "a pretty clear case" of the media taking Obama's remarks out of context, adding: "[W]hat's interesting to me is ... this was the media getting a classic case of the Drudges. You know, it was a local TV station; Drudge picked it up; it exploded."

From the October 5 edition of MSNBC Live:

ALEX WITT (co-anchor): All right, let's look at this: Were Obama's comments taken out of context? Is that what's leading to all these attacks on his patriotism?

TODD: Absolutely. I mean, I think it's a pretty clear case of it. But what's interesting to me is [inaudible]. I mean, this was the media getting a classic case of the Drudges. You know, it was a local TV station; Drudge picked it up; it exploded. But what I thought was fascinating is within two or three hours of this thing hitting, yesterday, Obama addressed the so-called controversy at a rally, and he said -- and he basically reiterated, decided he better get more video footage out there and more quotes out there of himself giving -- saying what we quoted him saying at the beginning of this segment, which is, you know, he did this at -- right after 9-11, and, you know, giving his fuller explanation.

So, I think they nipped it in the bud. I think this is one of those things, had they not addressed it and then tried to say, you know -- criticized the media for being a little too tabloid-y about something, that it would have caught fire. But, instead, they seem to have tamped it down pretty quickly.

From the October 4 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: Next, we're going to turn to presidential politics. Candidates face so much scrutiny these days, and it's not just their position papers and stump speeches that are fair game. Case in point: something of a controversy that has erupted involving Democratic Senator Barack Obama, and a lapel pin. Here's ABC's David Wright.

[begin video clip]

WRIGHT: This week, an eagle-eyed reporter at ABC's Cedar Rapids affiliate noticed something missing from Barack Obama's lapel. "You don't have the American flag pin on," the reporter observed during an interview with the candidate, "is that a fashion statement?"

Those red, white, and blue pins became standard issue for the politician's wardrobe after 9-11. The reporter pointed that out, and Obama agreed. He said he wore such a pin shortly after September 11, but later felt it had become a substitute for true patriotism.

OBAMA: I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and, hopefully, that will be a testimony to my patriotism.

WRIGHT: Today, in Iowa, some Obama supporters applauded that decision.

HAURUM: He doesn't need to wear that flag on his lapel; he wears it in his heart.

WRIGHT: But others may not like it at all.

HANNITY: Why do we wear pins? Because our country was under attack.

WRIGHT: And some may use it for political advantage. To be fair, most of the presidential candidates from both parties do not wear the flag pins, even when they're all dressed up for televised debates. The only big exception: Republican Rudolph Giuliani is never without one. John Edwards doesn't wear one. [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY] doesn't wear one, nor does John McCain.

And it might never have become an issue for Senator Obama had it not been for the way he answered the reporter's question. Today, he clarified his views.

OBAMA: I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart.

WRIGHT: If he had said that in the first place, he might have avoided any controversy.

From the October 5 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:

CHRIS CUOMO (co-host): Yes, and let's take a look at the race to '08 and why presidential contender Barack Obama won't wear an American flag lapel pin. His answer? Obama told an ABC affiliate that they've become a substitute for true patriotism, and that's why he declined to wear one -- but the story will not end there. David Wright has more.

[begin video clip]

WRIGHT: After 9-11, the red, white, and blue lapel pin became the fashion accessory of choice for politicians, but not all of them.

KCRG REPORTER: You don't have the American flag pin on. Is this a fashion statement?

WRIGHT: This week, a reporter for ABC's Cedar Rapids affiliate was the first to notice.

OBAMA: You know, the truth is that, right after 9-11, I had a pin.

WRIGHT: But Obama said he eventually decided to stop wearing the pin.

OBAMA: That became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security. I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest.

WRIGHT: The comments kicked up a hornets' nest.

HANNITY: Why do we wear pins? Because our country was under attack.

WRIGHT: The obsession with flag pins is relatively new: Ike didn't wear one; JFK either. Nixon did wear the flag --

PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, I'm not a crook.

WRIGHT: -- as he told the American people he had nothing to do with Watergate.

Turns out, Senator Obama is in pretty good company in this campaign. Most of the other candidates for president this year don't wear the flag pin.

John Edwards always wears his late son's Outward Bound pin. Hillary Clinton often goes pinless out on the campaign trail.

CLINTON: I think there are so many ways that Americans can show their patriotism.

WRIGHT: Of all the candidates this year, only Rudolph Giuliani is rarely seen without his flag pin.

OBAMA: I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart.

WRIGHT: A fashion statement that could provoke plenty of debate -- for Good Morning America, David Wright, ABC News, Washington.

[end video clip]

CUOMO: Now joining us live with the bottom line is ABC's chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos.

George, thank you for joining us this morning as always -- tricky politics here for Barack Obama, when you're playing with the American symbol, the flag. How does this go for him?

STEPHANOPOLOUS: Well, listen, the problem is not the fact that he's not wearing a flag pin. As David Wright pointed out, a lot of candidates aren't wearing the pin. The problem for him is, in that first answer, he seemed to slam people who did wear the pin as we were moving towards war in Iraq and he was suggesting that this was a protest on his part and that was a mistake for Barack Obama.

He fixed it yesterday. I don't think this is going to be a huge problem for him going forward. In fact, it probably appeals to some in the Democratic base who are very much anti-war, but it could limit his gains further on down the road.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, The Drudge Report, ABC, CNN
Person
Matt Drudge
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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