Obama’s Plane (An Impressive, Mid-Campaign Smear)

As some readers know, every so often I get an email smear that is so over-the-top, I feel the need to correct it here. I did it a couple of months ago, with an email that, incredulously, claimed more soldiers had died under Clinton and Carter than under President Bush. Of course, it wasn’t true. And if you missed that entry, knock yourself out.

The mid-season smear-de-jour (does that make me sound too French?) is about Obama’s airplane, and the ominous and unpatriotic assertion that he painted over an American flag.

But as with every email smear, just because something is literally true doesn’t mean you have the whole context. And so, I’d like to give it to you. (Context, that is…)

First, part of the original smear email.

It starts:

“I don’t know about you ………but I am DISGUSTED. My stomach is turning over…………”

Then, to add credibility, it says: “We snoped this.”

The it delivers the knock out punch:

“Obama The Patriot- Removes American Flag From His Plane
Barack Obama recently finished a $500,000 total overhaul of his 757. And as part of the new design, he decided to remove the American flag from the tail…
What American running for President of the United States would remove the symbol of his country? And worse, he replaced the flag with it with a symbol of himself…”

Then, they provide a picture of the tail, just so you’ll see they’re telling the, um, truth:


They finish with: “Please forward this on if you’re not ashamed of your country or it’s flag & think this is a disgrace!”

Sounds ominous, huh?

Well, I am neither ashamed of my country, nor it’s flag. But I’m not going to forward this on either. Because as a you surely know by now, dear friends, there is a difference between truth and context. And the reality here is that, while the emails claim is technically true, the actual context of it makes the whole issue seem not quite so, shall we say, ominous.

First, the entire Snopes entry

Now, of course, I hope you’ll go read this for yourself. Because, if you don’t, then you’re really just doing what readers of the email do, aren’t you? You’re taking my word for it. I’m telling you “Snopes provides context for this claim.” But, of course, the email said that too. So, please check it out. It will make me feel better if you do.

It is true that Obama recently had his campaign plane repainted. It is true that this repainting removed an American flag from the tail.

However!!! The story omits a key point: the flag was on the plane not because Obama put it there, but because the plane used to belong to “North American Airlines.”

Turns out, all their planes have American flags on the tail. Have a look here:


Here are some important points that Snopes makes about the repainting:

“Although Senator Barack Obama flew on a variety of aircraft during the long campaign season, from March through June 2008 he primarily used a Boeing 757-200ER aircraft chartered from (and operated by) North American Airlines as his campaign plane. During that period, the plane bore the standard color scheme and company markings of a North American Airlines aircraft…

However, once the primary campaign effectively ended and Senator Obama became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, his campaign plane underwent a month-long refurbishment to prepare it for the general election campaign, a process that included reconfiguring the interior seating and modifying the exterior markings to identify and publicize the aircraft as Barack Obama’s official campaign plane.”

The story goes on to point out that the distinctive design of the American flag on the jet depicted above is actually a
registered trademark of North American Airlines.

I don’t know much about trademark infringement, but I believe I am right to say that it would have been a violation of trademark law for Obama’s campaign to continue using a plane with that trademarked depiction of the American flag. If anyone who knows trademark law somehow can see away around this, let me know.

So, yes, Obama painted over an American flag that was on the back of his plane. Sounds horrible, until you know the whole story.

But, of course, truth and context hardly matter in things like this. Smears like this aren’t about the truth. Smears are always about tapping into deeper fears that are already out there.

Fears that Obama is not “patriotic.”
Fears that he’s a Muslim. (Even 15-20 percent of all Democrats apparently still believe this one!!!)
Fears that he’s a extremist Christian associated with Rev. Wright.

BTW, just to be clear, you know those last two are mutually exclusive, right?

Amazingly, Obama gets smeared with two things that cannot possibly both be true!!!

But see, that’s the nature of smears: the truth doesn’t matter. Because it’s not about the truth. It’s about re-enforcing somebody’s pre-existing bias. It’s about repeating the same bias –over and over, in enough different ways– that people begin to think, “Well, I’ve heard this just enough that it makes me uneasy.”

Hopefully, we are getting past this kind of of politics. I happen to believe the internet helps this quite a bit. Folks can go look it up for themselves. Or, they can just listen to bloggers like me correct the context. It seems to me that, thus far, these kinds of smears have gotten a lot of press in this campaign, but not a lot of traction. I hope that’s true.

But I don’t count on them stopping anytime soon. Because even though they don’t work on the general public, they will still work on a certain segment. In the world of smears, not wearing a small “flag pin” becomes painting over an airplane-sized one. Either way, the clear message is: Obama hates the flag.

BTW, did you happen to notice he’s wearing a flag pin a lot more these days?

“So what?” you say. Perhaps you’re still asking: “Why didn’t he paint a different, non-trademarked, flag on the back of his new plane?”

And I suppose that’s an interesting question. But if we ask him that, I hope we’ll also ask Senator McCain why he didn’t either:


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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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