Fact Check

Did Michelle Obama Ask, 'All of This for a Damned Flag'?

During a 9/11 commemoration ceremony, Michelle Obama supposedly made a caustic reference to the U.S. flag.

Published May 14, 2012

During a 9/11 commemoration ceremony, Michelle Obama exclaimed, 'All of this for a damned flag'?

A video clip from a 9/11 commemoration ceremony in 2011 shows President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama observing a portion of the ceremony in which an honor guard has folded an American flag, at which point the First Lady leans over to her husband and makes a remark, to which the President nods in agreement. The clip has been circulated with the claim that what Michelle Obama said to her husband was the question, "All of this for a damned flag?":

Her pronouncement years ago of being proud for the first time in her adult life of her country PALES in comparison to what she said during a 9-11 commemoration over the weekend.

This anti American socialist blathering FOOL has gone WAY too far.

There she sat on Barack’s right side as bagpipers played and an honor guard folded an American Flag. You know how it’s done… with reverence and respect, folded precisely and crisply… honored. It was during that moment that our nations “First Lady” leaned to her husband’s ears and asked the question that should set your TEETH on fire!

“All of this for a damned flag?”

When Barack nodded, she sat back and gave a look of disgust. HE doesn’t show the least bit of surprise at her question!!

There is no audio but you can clearly read her lips. How do we know what was said? The video was presented for translation to a lip reading instructor at The River School, a Washington D.C. school for the deaf.

“All of this for a damned flag?”


This woman is beneath contempt and in NO WAY worthy of the title she currently holds!!

“All of this for a damned flag?”

Michelle Obama has NO IDEA what that “DAMNED FLAG” is or what it stands for ... NOT A CLUE!!!

That flag… the stars and stripes to her must be nothing more than an old rag… just a pieces of cloth sewn together and not worth the consideration of a dust cloth.

That flag IS the representation of the GREATEST NATION ON EARTH. That flag flies in honor of those who protect this nation with their lives. It stands as a symbol of freedom and justice in this world. It protects our liberty and our rights. Each star represents an individual state and each stripe one of the 13 original colonies.

What irks me most is that he nods in agreement to her statement - we need to remember this on election day.

In the absence of an audio recording it's impossible to definitively determine what the First Lady said at that moment, but “All of this for a damned flag?” is one of the more unlikely options.

For what it's worth, a lip reading instructor at the River School in Washington, D.C., did not, as claimed, provide the proffered explanation ("All of this for a damned flag?") of what Michelle Obama supposedly said in this video clip. The school posted a disclaimer on their website stating, ""Please be advised that The River School was not involved in any translation services for a recent video clip currently circulating on the Internet."

Although it may look to the ordinary viewer that the First Lady's lip movements do correspond to that phrase, it's not possible to determine what she said from that observation alone. Contrary to common belief, lip reading is far from an exact science -- a lot of word formation is hidden inside the mouth, and therefore a lip reader can interpret two completely different words or phrases from identical mouth movements. (For example, the lip movements corresponding to voicings of "colorful" and "I love you" can easily be confused with each other.) Much of the process of lip reading involves guesswork and inference from context, and once viewers have been presented with a particular interpretation of lip movements (as in this case), it's hard for them to "hear" anything other than what has already been suggested.

Determining exactly what the First Lady might have said via lip reading is complicated by the fact that her lips disappear behind a partition at one point in the clip. Other experienced lip readers have interpreted the sentence uttered by Michelle Obama during this clip to be anything from "We're in for a real fight" to "I wonder if they flew that flag" to "It's amazing how they fold that flag" (the consensus of the contributors at AllDeaf.com) to "How pretty they fold that flag" (the last of these accompanied by its own video analysis).

The web site Bad Lip Reading does a good job of demonstrating how wildly varied lip reading interpretations of utterances can be:

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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