Fact Check

Did No US Flags Adorn the Stage at the Detroit Democratic Debate?

Memes remain a poor source when it comes to facts.

Published Nov. 12, 2019

People stand outside the Fox Theatre ahead of the democratic debates in Detroit, Michigan on July 29, 2019. - Democrat presidential candidates will debate in Detroit on July 30-31. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images
No American flags adorned the stage at a debate for Democratic presidential candidates in Detroit in 2019.
What's True

No physical American flags were visible onstage at the Fox Theater in Detroit during a CNN-hosted Democratic debate July 30-31, 2019.

What's False

However, the debate stage was heavily adorned with the flag's colors: red, white and blue.

What's Undetermined

Whether any flags were present at the venue but not seen on television cameras.

A recurring but misleading meme circulating online as of mid-November 2019 posited that no American flags were displayed at a recent debate between Democratic 2020 presidential candidates.

The image in the meme is from the first night of Democratic debates hosted by CNN on July 30 and 31, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan. During that event, 10 of the then-20 candidates stood at podiums lining the stage at the Fox Theater facing moderators Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper, with a large digital display behind them.

Ironically, although the meme does show a cropped image of 10 of the candidates standing on stage without a physical U.S. flag in the frame, the entire stage and digital-display screen in the background were adorned in red, white and blue.

The meme contains a recycled claim similar to one that aired in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. At that time, the false accusation was that no flags were present at the Democratic National Convention. It plays into a line of rhetoric promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump that his political opponents in the Democratic party are the enemy of the people or are radical leftists.

We are rating this claim "Mixture" because although no physical flags could be seen on the stage at the Fox Theater, the flag's colors were prominently on display. Furthermore, it is unclear whether flags were placed at a location out of the camera's view. We sent an email to a spokeswoman for CNN asking that question. Flag imagery has been present at other Democratic debates.

We note in passing that the lack of the presence of a physical American flag doesn't automatically make one a socialist or vice-versa.


Mondry, Aaron. "Everything You Need to Know About the Democratic Debates in Detroit."   Curbed Detroit. 30 July 2019.

Swan, Betsy and Kevin Poulsen. "Twitter Suspends Conspiracy Account After Trump Retweet."   Daily Beast. 31 July 2019.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more