ABC News Bans Flag Lapel Pins-Truth! & Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:

ABC News executives told reporters not to wear American flag lapel pins because the network should remain as neutral as possible.

The Truth:

Rumors that ABC News has banned American flag lapel pins have been swirling ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The claim was based in truth at one time, but it has drifted more toward fiction over the years.

The 9/11 attacks resulted in a wave of patriotism that had not been seen in decades. The shared enthusiasm for the country and flag were widespread.

It created difficulties for reporters, however, who try to professionally earn and keep people’s trust by avoiding personal partisan displays while reporting in the news. Many media outlets struggled to preserve their image as journalists while at the same time appearing unpatriotic in a time of crisis. Some journalists elected to wear American flag lapel pins on air, and the debate started.

CBS, NBC and CNN did not have a lapel pin policy in place before or after 9/11, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Reporters for those stations regularly wore American flag lapel pins on air while covering 9/11.

When word got out that ABC News had “banned American flag lapel pins,” the network became a lightning rod for criticism. However, the eRumor began to drift away from the truth almost immediately.

The network never specifically singled out American flag lapel pins — it prohibited its reporters from wearing any lapel pin on the air.

David Westin, the former president of ABC News, said in a 2012 interview with CNN that he made the decision to stick with the no-lapel pin policy in the days that followed 9/11:

“It came up while I was in the control room. As you’ll recall, we were on the air for about four and a half days straight — 24 hours, seven days a week with no commercial interruption or anything else. There was constant reporting coming in during that time and we were having to make decisions about what to do and what not to do … They came to us and said, ‘We are being asked why we’re not wearing lapel pins,’ because a number of other outlets, particularly cable news, were. Fox News in particular had integrated the American flag into the backdrop and bumpers and teases and everything else. And we’d long had a policy at ABC News that we wouldn’t let people wear any lapel pins of any sort. The theory being that when you’re reporting the news, you should be reporting the news, not taking a position. I said quickly, ‘We’re going to stick with our policy and stand by that.’ I believe to this day that was the right decision.”

Ever since, the stance that ABC News takes on all lapel pins — including American flag lapel pins — has been widely misunderstood. Under the policy, reporters are simply asked not to wear lapel pins. What happens if they do anyway? Not much, apparently.

Terry Moran, who covered the Bush administration for ABC News in 2001, chose to defy the network and wore a flag lapel pin. He still climbed the network’s ranks over the next decade and became co-anchor of the show “Nightline.”

This eRumor has resurfaced a number of times over the years. After President Obama temporarily stopped wearing an American flag lapel pin in 2007, ABC News was accused of “following the president’s lead” in a series of viral emails. Considering the long standing lapel pin policy at ABC News, that claim is false.

Then, in early 2015, another viral email claimed that ABC News had just ordered reporters not to wear “lapel pin American flags or other patriotic insignia.” That email was outdated and stretched the truth about the policy to begin with.


Last updated 04/20/15

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Dear friend,

Yesterday, the brass at ABC News issued orders forbidding reporters to wear lapel pin American flags or other patriotic insignia. Their reasoning was that ABC should remain neutral about “causes”. Since when is support for preventing our death & destruction some sort of a cause? Since when is patriotism to be discouraged. I urge you to boycott ABC and its sponsors and affiliates.

Please forward this to as many as you can.