Fact Check

Did Michelle Obama Refuse to Salute the U.S. Flag on Veterans Day?

Using misleading photographs to impugn the patriotism of the Obamas became a cottage industry.

Published May 27, 2014

Photograph shows Michelle Obama not saluting the flag during a 2011 Veterans Day ceremony.

Prompted by one (real) photograph that was widely circulated during the 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have consistently been the subjects of multiple items distributed via social media portraying them as unaware of, or indifferent to, rendering the proper gestures of respect in relation to the U.S. flag:

Such items have repeatedly been documented as false, comprising a mixture of manipulated images, out-of-context photographs, and parodies mistaken for genuine news reporting. The example displayed above is another entry in this category, supposedly showing Michelle Obama at a Veterans Day event in 2011, standing with her arms clasped in front of her and presumably ignoring some off-camera event associated with the U.S. flag for which protocol dictates that observers should stand with their hands placed over their hearts.

The photograph shown here was indeed taken on Veterans Day in 2011, but the event which the Obamas were pictured was actually an NCAA basketball game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Michigan State Spartans which was held in the evening on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. The game was briefly interrupted at sunset to observe the nightly retiring of the colors tradition, during which official White House photographer Pete Souza snapped this photograph of President Obama raising his hand to his heart.

However, this photograph does not show First Lady Michelle Obama ignoring standard flag protocol and declining to place her hand over her heart during the ceremony; it has been misleadingly cropped to create that false impression. The full photograph shows no one present other than President Obama — not military personnel, not basketball players, not spectators — saluting the flag or placing their hands over their hearts, either. What Pete Souza captured in this image was the brief instant at the very beginning of the ceremony in which President Obama raised his hand to his heart, before anyone else in the frame reacted and did likewise:

An Associated Press photograph taken that same day documented that Michelle Obama did indeed know, and render, the appropriate hand-over-heart gesture of respect for the flag at patriotic functions:


Stolberg, Sheryl Gay.   "'They Answered a Call,' Obama Says of Veterans."     The New York Times.   25 May 2009.

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

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