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E-mail assailing Obama's patriotism misses mark

By BILL ADAIR, Times Washington Bureau Chief
Published November 9, 2007

This photo of Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton is similar to one being forwarded in a chain e-mail. It wasn't taken during the Pledge of Allegiance, contrary to claims bounding around the Internet.

WASHINGTON - In the photograph, Barack Obama is standing in front of an American flag with his hands clasped just below his waist. Beside him are Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton, with their hands on their hearts.

A new chain e-mail ricocheting around the Internet says the photo shows Obama is unpatriotic.

It notes that Obama's middle name is "Hussein" and says he "REFUSED TO NOT ONLY PUT HIS HAND ON HIS HEART DURING THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE, BUT REFUSED TO SAY THE PLEDGE ... how in the hell can a man like this expect to be our next Commander-in-Chief????"

But the Time magazine photograph wasn't taken during the Pledge of Allegiance; it was taken during the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner.

The attack on Obama is the latest in a growing trend: e-mails forwarded to thousands or even millions of people with falsehoods about presidential candidates. Another recent e-mail attacked Hillary Clinton for "refusing to meet" with Gold Star Mothers even though she has met with them several times.

The Obama photo was taken Sept. 16 in Indianola, Iowa, at the Harkin Steak Fry, an annual political event hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin. The caption on the Time photo says Obama and the others "stand during the national anthem."

Matt Paul, an organizer of the event, and a video from ABC News confirm that the photo was taken as someone sang The Star-Spangled Banner.

Oddly, the accurate caption from Time is included in the chain e-mail. But someone has added that "the article said" Obama refused to say the pledge and would not put his hand on his heart.

There is no such article on the Time Web site and searches of the Web and newspaper-magazine databases could only find blog postings that repeat the claim from the e-mail. It's unclear where the allegation originated.

Voters have asked Obama about the e-mail at several campaign events this week. One woman said her son was very concerned about the charge.

Obama said the e-mail was false and that the picture was taken during the anthem.

"My grandfather taught me how to say the Pledge of Allegiance when I was 2," Obama said in Burlington, Iowa. "During the Pledge of Allegiance, you put your hand over your heart. During the national anthem, you sing."

He called the e-mail irritating and likened it to others that falsely accuse him of being a Muslim.

The photo has stirred up such a fuss that on Wednesday night the Obama campaign released a letter of support from retired military leaders.

"Senator Obama's attackers are peddling lies and smears because they disagree with his strong opposition to the war in Iraq and the rush to war in Iran," wrote Richard Danzig, secretary of the Navy under President Bill Clinton, and retired Gens. Merrill "Tony" McPeak and J. Scott Gration. "We have served this nation for decades, and we know a true patriot when we see one. Barack Obama is a patriot."

The photo also has spawned a debate about whether Obama's conduct was proper for the national anthem.

Conservative bloggers have pointed out that the federal law for "patriotic and national observances" says that during The Star-Spangled Banner, "all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart; men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart."

Experts on the national anthem say the law seems a bit out of date, given its reference to a man's "headdress." Yet it's still cited in several military manuals found on the Web.

Modern custom does not require a hand over the heart, said Anne Garside, director of communication for the Maryland Historical Society, home of the original manuscript of The Star-Spangled Banner.

"I think the bottom line is that you show respect with your demeanor," she said. "Whether you put your hand over your heart, hold your hat at shoulder level or waist level, is really in this day and age irrelevant."

She pointed out that "the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner was originally a drinking song. If they can put the words to the tune of a rousing drinking song, to quibble over whether you put your hand over your heart is really ridiculous."

Information from the Associated Press and ABC News was included in this report. Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at or 202 463-0575.




The photo that is supposed to be evidence wasn't taken during the Pledge of Allegiance.

[Last modified November 9, 2007, 01:36:44]

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