Text on the image itself read:
No American flags in an American presidential debate because they didn’t want to offend their base. Let that sink in
Not a single American flag at the Democrat Debate…
The same image was shared to Facebook on June 27 2019 by a separate user, with the caption
NO AMERICAN FLAGS AT THE DEBATE
WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU?
That account added a status update:
So not one flag on stage at first Democratic Debate and not one candidate for President wearing an American flag pin. Plus some spoke in Spanish and all, except one, saying that they want socialist programs in place that would bankrupt the country. So as you can see Democrats hate Americans and America. Remember this.
On June 27 2019, a version was shared to Reddit in screenshot form:
The claim was also tweeted by an actor:
There were various iterations of the claim that no flags were visible on the stage, along with rumors that candidates eschewed flag lapel pins so as not to offend the Democratic Party’s base.
Going by the images’ timestamps, they referenced the first of two consecutive nightly debates on that particular date. Present at that debate were Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren.
As it is presented, the claim that no flags at all appeared at the June 2019 Democratic debate hinges on the use of a specific perspective and reliance on an assumption that very few people watched the televised event themselves. In its detail, flag pins are relatively small and difficult to see in profile (although it appeared the man at the far right of the photograph actually does sport a lapel flag.)
The meme, as usual, failed to use a well-publicized shot of the debate accompanying news articles about it. In that image, the debate logo was quite clearly flag-based:
A screen at the center of the stage’s backdrop read “NBC News Democratic Debate” across a larger, starred fabric background. Across it were the words, as well as a striped, flying flag. Behind that, a digitized wall displayed the same rippling, red white and blue star fabric. In that sense, it could be said that the entire wall behind the ten Democrats was itself a digitized flag.
As PolitiFact noted, at least five of the ten candidates wore American flag lapel pins:
This Getty photo, for example, shows the NBC News logo with the red and white stripes of the flag, and a graphic behind the candidates that resembles a flag rippling in the wind. Red, white and blue and stars and stripes dominate the stage … Additionally, we found photos of a number of candidates sporting American flag lapel pins, including Rep. Tim Ryan, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Maryland congressman John Delaney, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio[.]
There are no physical flags in the pictures. But searching for photos of the 2016 Republican presidential debates, it appears similar sets were used — lots of stars, stripes and an American color palette.
The imagery was similar to a 2016 still photograph from a Republican debate, although with more blue (the Democrats’ color) than red (for Republicans):
Debate stages in 2016 and in 2019 tended to be of a specific aesthetic, with few physical items aside from the candidates and their mic-ed podiums. A 2019 W magazine article about the set design for debates likened them to “bad game shows.”
A cyclical (and cynical) claim that no American flags appeared either on stage or as a lapel pin during the Democratic debates in 2019 often accompanied further opining that the purported absence of flags was to not offend the Democrats’ “base.” Not only did candidates wear flag pins, the stage’s digital design was almost entirely composed of flags and flag-related imagery. Comparisons with 2016 Republican debates showed a similar design to sets, and the claim spread alongside an image of the candidates in which the backdrop was not visible, in true disinformation form.