Obama, the flag and the tale of the tail
A common theme in the many chain e-mails attacking Barack Obama is an allegation that the senator is not patriotic.
One e-mail falsely claimed Obama refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Another spread a bogus quote from a satirical article that said Obama wanted to replace the Star-Spangled Banner with an old Coca-Cola theme song. (Many people didn't get the joke and forwarded the e-mail to friends.)
Now comes another attack on Obama's patriotism that says his campaign replaced an American flag on the tail of the senator's charter plane with the Obama logo. The e-mail is correct that the tail was changed, but it's important to understand the details: the Obama campaign was painting over a corporate logo that happened to feature an American flag, not eliminating a stand-alone flag.
The e-mail, which was sent to us by several dozen PolitiFact readers who wanted to know if it was accurate, has the subject line "What a Disgrace!!!!!" or "Fwd: Disgrace!"
It then quotes from The Patriot Room, a conservative blog:
"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 a symbol of himself."
Some versions of the e-mail include an additional comment that does not come from the Patriot Room posting: "Obama is such a despicable human being. ... Please forward this if you're not ashamed of our country and our flag & if (you) think this is a disgrace."
We have noticed a growing number of the chain e-mails contain that direction, which acts like a reproductive mechanism to ensure the message keeps multiplying.
The e-mail is correct that the Obama campaign in July 2008 directed its charter company, North American Airlines, to repaint the plane that shuttles the candidate, his aides and the press corps. (We're not examining the allegation that it cost $500,000 for the changes.)
Steve Forsyth, a spokesman for North American, told us that his airline routinely repaints its planes for long-term clients.
"It's done all the time," Forsyth said.
In July, the campaign had its plane painted with the Obama logo and slogan. Presidential campaigns often do this because their planes serve as backdrops for photos and video coverage when the candidates arrive or depart from an airport. The campaigns want their own logos in the pictures — not the charter company's.
Obama's plane has his slogan "CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN" and his Web address on the side of the plane. On the tail, North American's flag logo has been replaced by the campaign's sunrise logo.
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, acknowledged the tail had been changed but added that there is still a flag on Obama's plane, "it's just closer to the center of the plane." He was referring to a flag on the fuselage beside the plane's registration number.
Vietor noted that there is no flag on the tail of the McCain campaign plane. (But there is a wavy flag on the side of the McCain plane beside the motto "Reform/Prosperity/Peace.")
If flag size on charter planes is important to you as a voter, it's worth noting that the Obama and McCain flags are dwarfed by the stars and stripes on Bob Dole's '96 campaign plane ( big flag on tail), Bush-Cheney '00 ( bigger flag on tail) and Kerry-Edwards '04 ( wavy flag on fuselage).
But, back to the matter at hand. Yes, the e-mail is right that the Obama campaign replaced the American flag with its own logo, but the flag it covered was a corporate logo, not a stand-alone flag. So we'll take this down a notch to Mostly True.