A tale of two American flags: The Pledge of Allegiance and the Mideast street mobs

Ari Shapiro faced a moral dilemma. As NPR’s political correspondent following the Mitt Romney campaign, he stalwartly listened repeatedly to the candidate’s stump speech, which always begins with a reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and our national anthem.

On the day before the September 11th anniversary, Shapiro decided it was time to make a stand…or not stand. It was unseemly, he believed, to join in the patriotic spectacle when he is paid to be an unbiased observer. So while the crowd in Mansfield, Ohio stood up and placed their hands over their hearts, he instead decided to sit, laptop open, and compose the following tweet:

As a reporter I’m torn about joining in the pledge of allegiance/national anthem at rallies. I’m a rally observer, not a participant.”

Some on Twitter chastised him; many heralded his ethical fortitude. So sure and so smug, he took the time write a blog about his bold “quandary.” What a guy of principle.

Ironically, the same day his article appeared, something else was happening far, far away from the rusted factories of Mansfield. It too involved a group of people and the American flag.  In Cairo and Benghazi, violent mobs ostensibly angered by a film deemed offensive to Islam, scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate and ripped down our flag, stomping and setting it afire. By the end of the rage, four Americans, including Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and ex-Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were murdered.

The next day at a Romney press conference, our man-of-principle was caught on a live microphone coordinating with other reporters how they were going to nail the candidate for his remarks criticizing the Cairo Embassy’s statement. Oops. This is same reporter who claims that he can’t, in good conscience, give any impression that would jeopardize his journalistic neutrality.

It matters less that Shapiro has been revealed to be a hypocrite than it does that he and many of his journalism peers believe they are morally superior to the dutiful hordes who tear up listening to “God Bless America.” These are the same reporters defining and bending the message to fit their world view; a place where sanctioned group-think trumps common sense and where the behavior of some people—but certainly not all—is given special consideration. Group identity politics at its worst propagated by a culturally insular, isolated press.

Compared to the crisis a half world away, the fact Ari Shapiro chooses to sit on his rump during the Pledge of Allegiance and revel in arrogant self-regard is hardly important. That said, he would be wise to remember that, unlike Egyptians and Libyans, we allow for childish expressions of free speech.

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