Obama Holds No-Flag Press Conference

Urban legend says Obama is first president to omit the symbol

President Obama holding press conference
President Obama holding a press conference on the BP oil spill in the East Room.

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Viral messages circulating since May 2010 feature an image of former President Barack Obama holding a White House press conference with no American flags on display claiming that he is the first U.S. president to do so. The claim further states that he spoke to the press while standing in front of a "Muslim prayer curtain." Read on to learn the details of the rumor and the facts of the issue.

Example Viral Posting

Below is the text of a 2010 viral message that is fairly representative. Posted on the political blog ​Free Republic, it stated:

"Did anybody notice at President Obama's Press Conference on the Deep Water Horizon disaster that something was missing in the background? I noticed something didn't look right and then it hit me. The American Flags was missing behind. Why? Behind him was just yellow curtains, and a couple of gold columns with chandeliers.
I went and researched and looked at all photos of many press conferences (not press briefings) of past presidents as far as I could go and low and behold the American Flags stood proudly behind the President or off to the side. What was the reason for this? This was Obama's first formal press conference since July of 09 which at that conference were U.S. Flags present. I am pretty sure this time that they had plenty of time to plan this and get it right?
So, maybe there was another motive for the flags absence. We know Obama (or his handlers) carefully choreograph his image, his appearances... It's why he's so teleprompter-dependent. Surely he and his advisers know that flag issues have been a lightning rod -- even before he was elected. I think this was deliberate. Could it be that Obama really is ashamed of America? Could it be that he thinks he is the citizen of the world which has no flag? Ladies and gentlemen this is very disturbing coming from the office of the Presidency. This is not normal to not have the symbol of the United States and its government in the east room of the White House and it is not very Presidential either. Many patriotic brave men and women have died under the stars and stripes called old glory. This fiasco coupled with the President skipping the laying of the Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetary this Memorial Day speaks volumes of the man (or Usurper) that sits in the Oval Office. What say you?"

No-Flag Analysis

It's true that there are no full-size American flags visible in news photos and video of President Obama's May 27, 2010, press conference addressing the BP oil spill. It's also true that the settings of such events do typically include at least one U.S. flag. It's not true, however, that Obama is the first president to ever hold a press conference without U.S. flags on display.

Photos exist showing Ronald Reagan—whose patriotism no one ever questioned—speaking to reporters in a flagless White House press room on more than one occasion. There are images of former presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon doing the same. George W. Bush sometimes held outdoor press briefings with no U.S. flags on display.

More to the point, the partisan narrative these messages convey—that of an "unpatriotic" president who "shuns the flag" because he is supposedly "ashamed of America"—is undermined by close-up photos taken at the same event which shows Obama was wearing an American flag pin on his lapel.

No Muslim Prayer Curtain

As to the claim that the gold drapery seen behind President Obama during the May 2010 press conference is some kind of "Muslim prayer curtain" (is there such a thing?): Tell that to former President George W. Bush, who was photographed standing in front of that same curtain many times himself. The gold silk curtains have hung in the East Room since John F. Kennedy was president.