CNN's glass house: Sr. VP reportedly criticized ABC debate question about flag pin -- but CNN has repeatedly covered issue

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

A New York Times article about criticism of ABC's conduct of the April 16 Democratic presidential debate reported the comments of CNN's David Bohrman and noted that Bohrman "took particular issue with the lapel-flag question" posed to Sen. Barack Obama. But CNN has itself paid considerable attention to the flag pin flap.

An April 18 New York Times article discussing the criticism of ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson's conduct of the April 16 Democratic presidential debate reported that CNN Senior Vice President and Washington bureau chief David Bohrman "took particular issue with the lapel-flag question, which was posed to Mr. Obama by a voter appearing on tape." The article stated: "Mr. Bohrman said he would have instead had the moderators ask each candidate about their stance on a possible amendment to the Constitution banning flag-burning. 'That's a legitimate flag question,' Mr. Bohrman said. 'I think the voters are expecting more from us.' " But CNN has itself paid considerable attention to the flag pin flap. Moreover, polling shows that Americans do not consider flag-burning a pressing issue.

As Media Matters for America noted, in an October 3, 2007, interview with ABC affiliate KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Obama was asked why he was not wearing an American flag pin on his lapel. Since then, CNN has repeatedly reported on Obama's decision to stop wearing an American flag lapel pin.

For instance:

  • During the April 15 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs noted that Obama was "actually wearing an American flag pin on his lapel" that day and was "given the pin by a veteran at a campaign stop in Washington, Pennsylvania. Obama put the pin on his lapel saying he wished to recognize the service of the veteran." Dobbs continued: "Obama, though, usually refuses to wear a flag pin on his lapel ... Obama [has previously] said wearing a pin is called 'a substitute for true patriotism.' " Gesturing toward the American flag pin affixed to his lapel, Dobbs added: "Can you see that, Senator Obama? Those are the kind of comments that really get my attention, I can tell you that."
  • While interviewing Obama on the March 19 broadcast of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, host Anderson Cooper said to Obama: "In a general election, though, patriotism is going to come up. I mean, in a general election, patriotism is going to be used by whoever it is who you are facing." After Obama replied, "[I]t would have been used anyway," Cooper asserted: "But they certainly have more fodder now. They're going to use the Reverend Wright [sermons]. They're going to use the comments made by your wife about the United States, about you not wearing a flag pin." Cooper then asked: "Do you define patriotism differently than, say, John McCain? Do African-Americans define patriotism differently than white America?"
  • During a report on the February 20 edition of The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Carol Costello stated: "Barack Obama himself has already fought the unpatriotic charge. Remember the flag pin controversy back in October? Obama caused quite a stir when he said he would no longer wear one because it had become a substitute for true patriotism."
  • On the October 14, 2007, edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Tony Harris reported: "[T]he great lapel pin debate appears to have ended in a draw. Barack Obama caught some heat recently when he said he is no longer going to wear his American flag lapel pin, calling its use by some a substitute for true patriotism."
  • On the October 9, 2007, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs led a panel discussion on Obama's statements about the flag lapel pin and introduced the segment as follows: "I want to ask you, Senator Barack Obama, as you know, he's not wearing a lapel pin -- lapel pins like the one I wear. He says it's become a -- I think he said it was -- it's become, in his mind, at least -- a substitute for true patriotism. The three of you, I noticed, don't wear lapel pins. So you must not be very patriotic."
  • In an October 9, 2007, CNN.com column, headlined "Our flag belongs to all Americans," Dobbs wrote that "Sen. Barack Obama put away his lapel flag pin. The senator says instead of a flag pin, his words will be a testament to his patriotism. I don't know what's wrong with the senator or why he can find any discomfort at all, but that's his right as an American. But any politician of any political party who believes their words can be an adequate substitute for the symbolic power of the American flag is sadly arrogant and horribly mistaken."
  • During the October 8, 2007, broadcast of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs stated: "I've been no less than astounded, in fact, by the incongruity, the contradiction, the specious and silly public statements by some of our public and political figures over something like a flag pin worn on one's lapel -- like this one that I wear on my lapel. ... Senator Barack Obama has decided not to wear a flag pin on his lapel. Senator Obama says his words will be a testament to his patriotism. That's fine... politicians of any political party on any part of the political and ideological spectrum who believe their words could ever rise to the level of the national values this flag represents are sadly ignorant and horribly mistaken."
  • On the October 5, 2007, edition of Anderson Cooper 360, CNN correspondent Tom Forman reported: "Barack Obama started wearing a flag pin after 9/11. Now it's gone. Why? The 'Obamarama' says he wants to show his patriotism through his actions, not his lapel."
  • On the October 5, 2007, edition of The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Suzanne Roesgen reported: "Senator Barack Obama was as dapper as ever this week in Iowa City, Iowa, but a sharp-eyed reporter noticed how plain his dark suit looked with nothing attached to the lapel. Where was the little American flag pin that many politicians wear as religiously as a wedding ring? ... After the terrorist attack of 9/11, Obama says he wore a flag pin as a symbol of patriotism, but he says he stopped wearing it while others still do." Roesgen went on to discuss politicians who regularly wear lapel pins and concluded her report by stating: "You know, [Situation Room anchor] Wolf [Blitzer], it may not mean much to voters, but bloggers are having fun with this, some say they admire Obama's decision not to wear the pin. While others say it reminds them of that Seinfeld episode in which Kramer refused to wear an AIDS ribbon. Remember that one, Wolf? So some say that it's best to just go with the flow and he should wear the pin anyway. But, again, that's what bloggers are saying today. Don't know if it's having much effect on voters."
  • During the October 5, 2007, edition of CNN Newsroom, co-anchor Don Lemon interviewed Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) and stated: "OK, I see you're wearing your flag pin today. There's been some controversy about Senator Obama, who's saying he's not going to wear a flag pin because his patriotism is on the inside. That's how he's going to show it."
  • On the October 4, 2007, edition of The Situation Room, Blitzer stated: "Why has Barack Obama stopped wearing a lapel pin of the U.S. flag? You are going to hear his explanation. That's coming up." Later, Blitzer stated: "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."

Further, Bohrman's statement that a "legitimate flag question" would be one regarding "a possible amendment to the Constitution banning flag-burning" is not in tune with what issues public opinion polls say Americans care most about in the upcoming election. Indeed, CNN.com does not even list "flag-burning" as one of the "range of issues ... guiding this year's presidential race"; and in its most recent poll, CNN did not list flag-burning among the options in response to the question, "What of the following issues will be the most important to you when you decide how to vote for president?" Even in 2006, when Congress was debating a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag-burning, public opinion polls repeatedly found that while majorities opposed flag-burning, only a small minority found flag-burning to be a top issue for the government to address. The Pew Research Center reported on June 28, 2006, that "[a]bout two-in-three Americans fly the flag. Nearly three-in-four say flag burning should be illegal. Roughly half say it should be unconstitutional. But despite these protective instincts, there's been no public clamor demanding that Congress take steps to defend Old Glory against burners and desecrators." The article continued:

In a nationwide Fox News survey taken earlier this month, flag-burning ranked a distant last among five issues tested as priorities for Congress this summer. Iraq was first at 35%, followed by gas prices (28%), immigration (26%) and same sex marriage (5%). Not even one percent of voters said that a flag burning amendment should be Congress's top priority.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this month asked a different variant of this question. It included flag burning among seven issues and asked registered voters which two would be most important in helping them decide how to vote for Congress this fall. Flag burning again came in dead last -- with just 4% naming it as their first or second most important issue.

The Pew Research Center took a third approach. In a nationwide telephone conducted from June 14-19, registered voters were asked whether or not they considered each of 19 issues to be important to them personally. Education led the way (82% said it is "very important"), followed by the economy (80%) and health care (79%). Just under half (49%) said a flag amendment is very important, placing it 14th on the list.

From CNN's transcript of the April 15 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: A rare sight today on the campaign trail, Senator Obama actually wearing an American flag pin on his lapel. Senator Obama, given the pin by a veteran at a campaign stop in Washington, Pennsylvania. Obama put the pin on his lapel saying he wished to recognize the service of the veteran.

Obama, though, usually refuses to wear a flag pin on his lapel. It was [inaudible] that Obama said wearing a pin is called "a substitute for true patriotism." Can you see that, Senator Obama? Those are the kind of comments that really get my attention, I can tell you that.

Well, Senator McCain today tried to take advantage of the battle in the Democrat Party. And he started pushing a populous economic agenda. How about that? Senator McCain called for a summer gasoline tax holiday and a simplified income tax system. Senator McCain's proposals designed in part to counter criticism he doesn't understand economics or care about middle-class voters' financial pain.

From CNN's transcript of the March 19 edition of Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: Even if the controversy dies down in the coming days, in a general election, if Obama is still in the race, it's likely we will hear more of Reverend Wright's most outrageous sermons.

COOPER [on camera]: In a general election, though, patriotism is going to come up. I mean, in a general election, patriotism is going to be used by whoever it is who you are facing.

[crosstalk]

OBAMA: And it would have been -- it would have been used -- it would have been used anyway.

COOPER: But they certainly have more fodder now, and they're going to use the Reverend Wright. They're going to use the comments made by your wife about the United States, about you not wearing a flag pin.

Do you define patriotism differently than, say, John McCain? Do African-Americans define patriotism differently than white America?

OBAMA: I don't think so. But what I do think is that we have come to use patriotism as a cudgel in politics. And I think that, oftentimes, it's spoken about in ways that don't get to what I think is the core of patriotism, which is, you know, are we caring for each other? Are we upholding the values of our founders? Are we willing to sacrifice on behalf of future generations?

COOPER: Do you think what Reverend Wright said was unpatriotic or un-American?

OBAMA: I absolutely think that some of the language was unpatriotic. And I think that, as I said yesterday, his biggest failure was not to criticize America, because I think there's always been a tradition of patriotism through dissent.

I mean, Dr. King criticized America. But I think that his failure was to think that America was static, all right? And, you know, when Dr. King criticized America, it was then with the prospect that we would be true to our best selves.

And that, I think, is the essence of my patriotism, the belief that America is constantly changing and constantly improving, and we will never be perfect, but we can -- we can move in the direction of perfecting our union. And that is the reason I'm in public service.

From CNN's transcript of the March 3 edition of The Situation Room:

KURTZ: But the media's tone is gradually changing now that Obama is the Democratic frontrunner. Stories that drew limited attention the first time around, such as the Illinois senator's relationship with indicted fundraiser Tony Rezko, who went on trial Monday, are making a comeback.

So is the so-called patriotism issue. No flag pin on his lapel? No hand on his heart that one time? Opponents call it unpatriotic. And Obama's eight year record as a state senator in Illinois is also drawing more scrutiny.

From CNN's transcript of the February 20 edition of The Situation Room:

COSTELLO: And Barack Obama himself has already fought the unpatriotic charge. Remember the flag pin controversy back in October? Obama caused quite a stir when he said he would no longer wear one because it had become a substitute for true patriotism.

And then there was that attack e-mail that made the rounds a few months back, that accused Obama of not putting his hand over his heart during the "Pledge of Allegiance".

OBAMA: This was "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was not the "Pledge of Allegiance". Any time that you pledge allegiance, you put your heart over -- your hand over your heart. And I always have and I always will.

From CNN's transcript of the October 14, 2007, edition of CNN Newsroom:

HARRIS: And the great lapel pin debate appears to have ended in a draw. Barack Obama caught some heat recently when he said he is no longer going to wear his American flag lapel pin, calling its use by some a substitute for true patriotism.

We happened to get a close-up look at the Republican hopefuls at their latest debate last week. And guess what we found? Only two. Yes, Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were wearing flags on their lapels. Vicente FOX, former president of Mexico, is taking jabs at his political friend, but with friends like these, well, you know the rest. FOX says President Bush may look like a swaggering tough guy, but it is all just an act. Ouch!

From CNN's transcript of the October 9, 2007, edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: We're back with our radio panel.

Doug McIntyre, I want to ask you, Senator Barack Obama, as you know, he's not wearing a lapel pin -- lapel pins like the one I wear. He says it's become a -- I think he said it was -- it's become, in his mind, at least -- a substitute for true patriotism.

The three of you, I noticed, don't wear lapel pins.

So you must not be very patriotic, Doug. I mean --

McINTYRE: We're on radio.

[crosstalk]

McINTYRE: We're lucky we have lapels.

[laughter]

DOBBS: What do you -- what do you make of the senator's focus on this? And that of, I mean, good lord, Katie Couric has taken up the issue, Bill Moyers.

I mean --

MARK SIMONE (WABC radio host): Even topless dancers are wearing them now. I don't know how.

DOBBS: It's crazy.

What do you think?

McINTYRE: Well, I don't know what to make of it. It's a very strange thing to comment on. And I know that, you know, we all know about paper mache patriots and people who just wrap themselves in a flag --

DOBBS: Right.

McINTYRE: -- and there'll be 600 flags on a stage. And I don't think we should judge people's patriotism by whether they do or don't wear a lapel flag. But it's just an odd thing to bring up in a campaign.

DOBBS: What do you think, Steve?

COCHRAN: Well, you know, here in Illinois, where Senator Obama is from, it doesn't have any interest at all, frankly. I mean it was a news story briefly. It came and it went. I just don't think that you do judge anybody's patriotism on it. But I would like to have seen Senator Obama or any politician do something crazy and say something logical when it's brought up, like, yes, I was wearing it. Now I don't wear it, but I still love America.

DOBBS: That --

[laughter]

COCHRAN: I mean, come on.

Please.

DOBBS: I love it.

And by the way, we're going to have -- we've got to end this discussion.

I mean, first of all, wearing a lapel pin with a flag on it -- which I wear out of respect for those --

COCHRAN: Which is great.

DOBBS: ...I started wearing it after September 11th for those who were killed in those attacks. And, you know, it doesn't make me more patriotic than anyone else. I don't think anyone should infer that. It's simply a personal statement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.

DOBBS: It's just bizarre that people are taking this up.

From Dobbs' October 9, 2007, CNN.com column, headlined "Our flag belongs to all Americans":

Lunacy among our public figures in this country certainly didn't subside over the weeks that I've been away from the broadcast. I've been no less than astounded by the incongruity, the contradiction, the specious and silly public statements by public and political figures over something like a flag pin worn on one's lapel.

[...]

Sen. Barack Obama put away his lapel flag pin. The senator says instead of a flag pin, his words will be a testament to his patriotism. I don't know what's wrong with the senator or why he can find any discomfort at all, but that's his right as an American. But any politician of any political party who believes their words can be an adequate substitute for the symbolic power of the American flag is sadly arrogant and horribly mistaken.

From CNN's transcript of the October 8 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: Lunacy among our public figures in this country certainly didn't subside over the weeks that I've been away from this broadcast. I've been no less than astounded, in fact, by the incongruity, the contradiction, the specious and silly public statements by some of our public and political figures over something like a flag pin worn on one's lapel -- like this one that I wear on my lapel.

I started wearing this lapel pin, by the way, after September 11th. I did so out of respect for those killed in the terrorist attacks and in recognition of this country's war on radical Islamist terror.

It turns out that some journalists and some presidential candidates are actually upset about flags on lapels. And over the past few weeks, they have actually adopted some rather superior and supercilious views on the subject.

For example, CBS' Katie Couric, of all people, taking exception to an American journalist saying we -- when referring to the United States -- or as I say each night on this broadcast, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I'm sorry, Katie Couric, but who could possibly be offended by acknowledging those troops who have sacrificed so much for us and ours?

Senator Barack Obama has decided not to wear a flag pin on his lapel. Senator Obama says his words will be a testament to his patriotism. That's fine.

PBS' Bill Moyers says the flag's been hijacked and turned into a logo, the trademark of a monopoly on patriotism. Oh, please, Bill Moyers, you're too smart for this kind of babble.

All of you, please stop the nonsense -- liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. Wear our flag proudly on your lapel or not. But for crying out loud, what is there in each of you that cannot support others wearing it proudly out of respect for the values this flag stands for and America's national values -- freedom of choice among those values.

I choose to wear this pin on my lapel. But if others -- and journalists, certainly, by some tortured reasoning -- believe the absence of the pin suggests neutrality and that gives them the pretense of objectivity, let me assure you, you couldn't be more wrong. And politicians of any political party on any part of the political and ideological spectrum who believe their words could ever rise to the level of the national values this flag represents are sadly ignorant and horribly mistaken.

And no one who does wear this flag, for whatever reason, should ever confuse support for this flag as an adequate expression of patriotism for this nation. True patriotism requires far more.

From CNN's transcript of the October 5, 2007, edition of Anderson Cooper 360:

TOM FOREMAN (on camera): The raw read -- years of big spending by Republicans have alienated many of their followers. They have to reclaim this issue if they want to hold onto the White House.

(voice-over): Democrat Hillary Clinton, laying claim to some powerful turf. Her latest add shows her at New York's Ground Zero. It is a swipe at Giuliani, but a risky one. He's been accused of exploiting that tragedy for his campaign. Now she has opened the door for similar complaints.

Barack Obama started wearing a flag pin after 9/11. Now it's gone. Why? The "Obamarama" says he wants to show his patriotism through his actions, not his lapel.

And John McCain says he wants former Federal Reserve boss Alan Greenspan to rewrite the tax code. But he's 81. So what, McCain says, quote, "Even if he's dead, just prop him up and put some dark glasses on him like 'Weekend at Bernie's'."

From CNN's transcript of the October 5, 2007, edition of The Situation Room:

ROESGEN (voice-over): Senator Barack Obama was as dapper as ever this week in Iowa City, Iowa, but a sharp-eyed reporter noticed how plain his dark suit looked with nothing attached to the lapel. Where was the little American flag pin that many politicians wear as religiously as a wedding ring?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

ROESGEN: After the terrorist attack of 9/11, Obama says he wore a flag pin as a symbol of patriotism, but he says he stopped wearing it while others still do. President Bush wears a flag pin, Vice President Cheney does, too. Ditto for Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson.

SEN. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love this thing. I love this country. I wear it, but patriotism is what you do, not what you say. It's what you do.

ROESGEN: On that presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton agrees. She wears a flag pin sometimes.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are so many ways that Americans can show their patriotism. Wearing a flag pin, flying the flag, pledging allegiance to the flag.

ROESGEN: Of course, the ultimate way to show patriotism is to vote, the vote in Iowa will be crucial.

You know, Wolf, it may not mean much to voters, but bloggers are having fun with this, some say they admire Obama's decision not to wear the pin. While others say it reminds them of that Seinfeld episode in which Kramer refused to wear an AIDS ribbon. Remember that one, Wolf? So some say that it's best to just go with the flow and he should wear the pin anyway. But, again, that's what bloggers are saying today. Don't know if it's having much effect on voters.

BLITZER: I think I've seen every "Seinfeld" episode about a dozen times. Thanks Suzanne very much.

From CNN's transcript of the October 5, 2007, edition of CNN Newsroom:

LEMON: So, if one -- the person who gets to be the -- be candidate, if they say to you, Governor Richardson, I want you to be my running mate, you're going to say no?

RICHARDSON: I'm going to say I want to be governor of New Mexico again, and I'm very happy where I am, but I'm going to win the nomination. You guys have me running for the Senate, vice president, secretary of state, we haven't even had a vote. We're three months away. I'm going to win the nomination. I'm going to be an upset winner.

LEMON: OK, I see you're wearing your flag pin today. There's been some controversy about Senator Obama, who's saying he's not going to wear a flag pin because his patriotism is on the inside. That's how he's going to show it.

RICHARDSON: Patriotism is what you do. And I don't think anyone should -- I think if you feel good about wearing it, wear it. I wear it. It's perfectly good to wear it. I love this flag. I love this country. I wear it. But patriotism is what you do, not what you say. It's what you do.

From CNN's transcript of the October 4, 2007, edition of The Situation Room:

BLITZER: It involves patriotism and the America flag. Why has Barack Obama stopped wearing a lapel pin of the U.S. flag? You are going to hear his explanation. That's coming up.

And secret opinions revealed -- they reportedly discuss just how to break the silence of suspected terrorists. I will speak live with the White House homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. She's standing live -- standing by live to talk about that, and more.

We will be right back.

BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Thursday: Rudy Giuliani is shrugging off criticism from a Catholic archbishop who says he would deny communion to the Republican because he supports abortion rights.

The Associated Press quoting Giuliani as saying that he's not going to debate an interpretation of religion and that he's not running for religious office. Giuliani spoke out in Saint Louis, where the Archbishop Raymond Burke told the AP he would deny communion to any presidential candidate who supports abortion rights.

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.

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