Did ABC News Ban Flag Lapel Pins?

Netlore Archive

American Flag Lapel Pin
Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A viral message claims ABC News has ordered reporters and news anchors not to wear American flag lapel pins or other patriotic insignia. While there was a request made in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attack, no similar request has been made in subsequent years. However, viral message returns again and again.

  • Description: Rumor
  • Circulating since: June 2008
  • Status: Misrepresented and outdated since 2001

    Example #1: Email text, June 25, 2008

    ABC News Bans Flag Lapel Pins

    Yesterday, the brass at ABC News issued orders forbidding reporters to wear lapel pin American flags or other patriotic insignia. Their reasoning was that ABC should remain neutral about "causes".

    Since when is support for preventing our death & destruction some sort of a "cause"? Since when is patriotism to be discouraged. I urge you to boycott ABC and its sponsors and affiliates. And those that advertise with them.

    We’re slowly losing everything our country stands for, and everything our men and women fought and died to preserve.

    Please forward this to as many as you can.

    Example #2: Email text, June 9, 2010:

    Subject: ABC NEWS joins OBAMA - Bans American Flag Pins

    ABC News Bans Flag Lapel Pins

    Yesterday, the brass at ABC News issued orders forbidding reporters to wear lapel pin American flags or other patriotic insignia. Their reasoning was that ABC should remain neutral about "causes".

    Analysis of the Flag Lapel Ban Rumor

    Please note that when the messages above say that ABC News banned flag lapel pins "yesterday," they're referring to a date in 2001. This was not a recent event.

    And although it's true that ABC News instituted such a ban shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the network's stated reasons were more cogent than what is indicated above.

    According to ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, the network saw it as necessary to protect its reporters' credibility, as well as their personal safety abroad.

    "We cannot signal through outward symbols how we feel, even if the cause is justified," he said in a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Overseas, it could be perceived that we're just mouthpieces for the U.S. government, and that can place our journalists in danger."

    ABC was the only major network to set such a policy. It was applauded by some as a sign of integrity and derided by others as an attempt to stifle patriotism. As Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz observed, the issue generated a good deal of ambivalence in the journalistic profession as a whole. "There are passionate views on both sides of this question," he said in a September 2001 commentary on CNN. "Journalists are patriots who love their country, and are horrified by these attacks, but many believe it's simply inappropriate for them to engage in flag-waving on the air."

    Regardless of which stand they took, every journalist who came down on one side of the issue or the other saw the decision as a matter of conscience. In the aftermath of 9/11, Meet the Press host Tim Russert chose to wear a red, white, and blue ribbon on camera.

    Other NBC anchors, including Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, did not. At Fox News, Britt Hume and others proudly sported American flag lapel pins. Bill O'Reilly did not.

    "I'm just a regular guy," O'Reilly was quoted as saying in Time magazine. "Watch me and you'll know what I think without wearing a pin."

    Flag Lapel Pin Ban Rumor Continues

    The viral messages continue to crop up again and again. They especially recurred during the years of the Obama administration, with reference to the president being seen in messages in 2008 and 2015. However, Obama never banned wearing flag lapel pins by any under his authority. This rumor is bound to recur and be modified to suit the times.

    Sources and Further Reading:

    The Line Between Journalism and Sensationalism CNN, 26 September 2001

    A Brief History of the Flag Lapel Pin  Time, 3 July 2008

    Should TV Journalists Be Flying the Flag?  Atlanta Journal & Constitution, 25 September 2001