The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Memorial Day, President Obama, and Internet Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 31, 2010

In this post, what I want to do is address a right-wing smear campaign which has been making the rounds on the Internet recently; it states how “Obama is the first U.S. President in history to not attend Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day”, with the implication being that he somehow “hates America”, I suppose.  Apparently, there are emails on this going around, as well as articles from various right-wing blogs & “news” outlets.  People who get snagged up in stuff like this don’t even have to receive the email directly, they just have to talk with someone who received it or heard about it, or they just have to hear/read about it from some other news outlet which merely repeats the story uncritically – that’s how memes like this propagate.  Basically, for bad or incomplete information to propagate, all it takes is gullibility & uncritical thinking, either on the part of individuals or the media.

For example, how many of those partisan emails or “news” outlets mention that Obama did indeed visit Arlington National Cemetery in 2009?  Here’s a photo of him at the event…

Not only that, but a quick search of Snopes.com – an excellent website for checking the validity of all manner of Internet nonsense – reveals plenty more information which the partisans who forward this garbage are omitting…

Claim: Mike Savage [a right-wing shock jock] stated that President Obama was not going to Arlington this Memorial Day but is sending VP Biden in his place. Obama is going to Chicago instead. Savage stated that this is the first time in history that a President has not laid a wreath at Arlington on Memorial day. Is this true?

No, it’s not true.  Specifically, the claim that Obama is the first U.S. president to not lay a wreath at Arlington on Memorial Day is not true.  Snopes.com elaborates…

Origins: Memorial Day, now observed on the last Monday of May, is the day of the year set aside for Americans to commemorate the men and women of the United States who died while in the military service. On Memorial Day the President of the United States traditionally visits Arlington National Cemetery, where America’s honored dead are interred, to deliver a speech in remembrance of those who died in service to their country and to lay a memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

News that President Obama would be spending the 2010 Memorial Day weekend in Chicago rather than attending services in Arlington were attended by claims (like the example cited above) that he would thus become the first U.S. president to skip the Arlington wreath-laying ceremony since the inception of Memorial Day. This claim is inaccurate: On several occasions in just the last thirty years, U.S. presidents have been elsewhere on Memorial Day (either vacationing or attending to other presidential duties), while other administration officials represented them at the wreath-laying ceremony:

  • In 2002, President George W. Bush was in France on Memorial Day and participated in ceremonies at Normandy (site of the D-Day landings) honoring the U.S. soldiers who fought and died in World War II. In his place, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President George H.W. Bush (himself a World War II veteran) attended no ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery during his four years in office. In 1989 he was in Rome on Memorial Day (where he led observances at an American military cemetery south of that city), and from 1990 through 1992 he spent the Memorial Day weekend vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, while Vice-President Dan Quayle laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President Ronald Reagan was away from Arlington on Memorial Day on four occasions during his eight years in office: In 1981, he (who had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt six weeks earlier) spent the Memorial Day weekend at his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, while Vice-President George H.W. Bush laid the wreath at Arlington. In 1983, he attended a summit meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Thayer represented the administration at the wreath-laying ceremony. In 1987, he spent Memorial Day at the Camp David presidential retreat while Navy Secretary James Webb participated in the wreath-laying ceremony. And on Memorial Day 1988, he was out of the U.S., attending a summit meeting in Moscow.
  • (NOTE: President Bill Clinton has no entry in this list because he attended Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington each year throughout his eight years in office.)

On Memorial Day 2010, President Obama is scheduled to honor America’s fallen heroes with a speech at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Chicago, while Vice-President Joe Biden takes his place at Arlington.

Sort of sucks the wind out of the “Obama hates America!” sails, doesn’t it?  And, lest the reader think this nonsense isn’t being encouraged and propagated by the right-wing partisans, just take a look at this (in my opinion, quite reprehensible) Youtube video by right-wing shock jock Michael Savage…

The sad thing here is that it is so easy for morons like Mike Savage to spread such nonsense & idiocy among the U.S. population.  Of course, part of this is because too many people do not think critically about where they get their “news”.  Should I seriously have to tell anyone reading this post that outlets such as Glenn Beck & Rush Limbaugh on the right and Keith Olbermann on the left should not be considered “news”?  Apparently so.

The other problem is that, despite having seen this sort of thing again and again, many people are all too willing to take whatever they receive in their email inboxes as true so long as it confirms their preconceived biases – this is called confirmation bias. You want to think that President Obama is the anti-Christ?  Yup, he sure is, because this email says so! [/sarcasm off]

Not only that, the media share some of the blame as well.  We live in a time where the media are slaves to the 24-hour news cycle, and sensationalism often takes a back seat to reasoned & careful discourse.  Too many in the media are just interested in gathering ratings by appealing to shock value and crazy-sounding headlines, and this colors the discourse of many things, especially politics.

In closing, just in case you think this is only a problem on the conservative end of the political spectrum, think again folks.  Snopes.com has plenty of examples of those on the left who engage in the same kind of nonsense – check here and here to see what I mean.

People need to take a calmer, more rational look at all things political.  And when we see something on the “news”, we need to think carefully about how the information we are receiving is being delivered to us.

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5 Responses to “Memorial Day, President Obama, and Internet Nonsense”

  1. [...] Read full story [...]

  2. Synesthesia said

    This is very true.

  3. [...] rest is here: Memorial Day, President Obama, and Internet Nonsense « The … 31/05/2010 – 23:52 | By apanhamentirosos | Posted in Commentary, Internet, Media | Tagged [...]

  4. Lisa Small said

    He was at Arlington last year; the Midwest this year; and perhaps next year he will go to a national cemetery in a western state or to Hawaii (where there are Pearl Harbor graves).

    All the war dead are equally important. There’s nothing special about Arlington save that it is so close to DC, and such a good background for photographs. The Tomb of the Unknowns is special, but Obama can do as other presidents (including Reagan) have done, and designate a surrogate to place the wreath there when the President is elsewhere.

  5. [...] Memorial Day, President Obama, and Internet Nonsense « TheThis claim is inaccurate: On several occasions in just the last thirty years, U.S. presidents have been elsewhere on Memorial Day (either vacationing or attending to other presidential duties), … The sad thing here is that it is so easy for morons like Mike Savage to spread such nonsense & idiocy among the U.S. [...]

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