COMMENTS: Barack Obama Wraps Himself in the Flag

Presidential candidate Barack Obama, who ended last week with a Story of the Day for his Unity NH photo-op, began this Fourth of July week in the same vein. He delivered a flag-draped speech in Independence Mo: "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign and I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine." Yet Obama's address hardly had the same pizzazz without Hillary Rodham Clinton by his side. It qualified as Story of the Day more by default than by deserts, since nothing more newsworthy came along. None of the three newscasts treated Obama as its lead: ABC picked the stock market; NBC selected wild fires in Big Sur; CBS chose fighting in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The remarkable thing about Obama's speech was the fact that he felt it was necessary. "He has faced such questions for months," remarked CBS' Dean Reynolds, referring to online whispers that he was somehow unAmerican. ABC's John Berman (embargoed link) spoke of "Internet rumors" from sites like about his failure to wear a flag on his jacket or his hand missing from his heart as he pledges allegiance. Berman noted that he made the speech in front of four flags with a fifth pinned to his lapel. His first General Election political ad, Berman added, was a $4m buy to profess his love of country.

The loftiness of Obama's speech was undercut by a soundbite from his surrogate Wesley Clark on CBS' Face the Nation. Clark, a Vietnam War veteran and retired USArmy general, cast this aspersion against John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and former USNavy pilot: "I do not think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President." ABC's David Wright called Clark's comment "especially provocative" given that McCain's experience as prisoner of war "shaped the core of his character." NBC's political director Chuck Todd--in the role that was routinely assigned to the late Tim Russert--offered analysis. Obama's address on patriotism was supposed to be "one of his big ones…he worked very long and hard on it" so surrogate Clark "ended up stepping on the speech and really causing some political pain for Obama."


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