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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama and the National Anthem

Q: Did Obama say the National Anthem conveys a “war-like message” and should be swapped for something such as “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”?

A: No. That’s false. The quote was one conservative writer’s idea of a joke, which has been picked up and repeated as though it were true in a chain e-mail.


Is this e-mail valid?

Hot on the heels of his explanation for why he no longer wears a flag pin, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was forced to explain why he doesn’t follow protocol when the National Anthem is played.

According to the United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Sec. 171, During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform are expected to stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.

“As I’ve said about the flag pin, I don’t want to be perceived as taking sides,” Obama said. “There are a lot of people in the world to whom the American flag is a symbol of oppression. And the anthem it self conveys a war-like message. You know, the bombs bursting in air and all. It should be swapped for something less parochial and less bellicose. I like the song ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.’ If that were our anthem, then I might salute it.”


This is a ridiculous example of how false stories are started, spread and, in many cases, believed.

It began with a column dated Oct. 27, 2007, on a Web site called the Arizona Conservative, which is written by John Semmens and clearly labeled as humor. His column, in fact, is called “Semi-News — A Satirical Look at Recent News.”

Nevertheless, his column on Obama has been copied and sent around in e-mails, masquerading as true stories. The reader who asked us about it said he received it from a conservative Republican coworker. The e-mail included a note calling Obama’s candidacy “a joke.”

In this case, the joke is the message falsely quoting Obama, and it’s on whomever is gullible enough to believe it’s true.

Footnote: For background on the “news” that Semmens was satirizing, see our Jan. 10 article, “Sliming Obama.” Also, thanks to Snopes.com for tracking down the source of this latest e-mail falsehood.

-Brooks Jackson

Semmens, John. “Semi-News — A Satirical Look at Recent News.” Arizona Conservative (azconservative.org), 27 Oct. 2007.