Our Flag – the Pledge – Our Beloved Star Spangled Banner – Symbol of Civil Rights Protest or Devotion to Country?

By Hank Boerner

Our Flag – the Pledge – Our Beloved Star Spangled Banner…
Symbol of Civil Rights Protest — or Devotion to Country?

The dust up over the stand/don’t stand situation in the National Football League — when the U.S. National Anthem is played — is disturbing to a lot of people.

Is this about “protesting” the life & death friction between a handful of police officers and African-Americas? About First Amendment-guaranteed free speech rights being exercised? About using a very visible public arena — football is “America’s game” after all — to bring attention to serious social / societal issues? All of these? And more — what about this being a case of disrespecting the treasured American flag (the stars and stripes, which the national anthem honors)?

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…is our flag still there….

And for you, dear reader — how many times have you said these words – probably thousands and thousands, depending on your age: I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

This Pledge – of Allegiance – is to the Flag, symbol of our nation, beloved by our American People.

The flag’s symbolism is powerful.

When I think of the American flag, I try to imagine the conditions under which Francis Scott Key penned his poem (in 1814). He was holed up in Baltimore harbor as British war ships pounded Fort McHenry (his poem was “Defense of Ft McHenry”). In 1931 this poem was  set to music by Stafford Smith and was adopted as our National Anthem. Most of us have probably never read the full four paragraphs (the three beyond the first, which we regularly sing along with).

The British cannons raked the fort. In the morning dawn, the tattered flag is visible. (The original was restored and is on display in the nation’s capital.) Writes Key:

“Tis the Start-spangled Banner: O, long may it wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave…”

For me, another battle, another flag, is closer in time (at least for me) in understanding the conditions under which this symbol of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave was seared into memory. For people who were there, fighting and dying, and for those of us who have since looked on at their sacrifice.

Consider: February, 1945 – on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima: members of the United States Marine Corps are locked in a life & death battle with the entrenched forces of the military of the Empire of Japan. On the tallest peak, on this small, extinct volcano, a group of Marines raise a small flag on top of Mount Suribachi. Cheers go up. The American fighting men are encouraged by the sight.

Later, another group of Leathernecks goes up and photograph Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press takes the photo that has been reproduced millions of times ever since. You can see that act memorialized in a notable structure – erected by private donations – overlooking the City of Washington, D.C.

The Marine Corps War Memorial, also called the Iwo Jima Memorial, is a military memorial statue outside the walls of the Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va. The memorial is dedicated to all personnel of the United States Marine Corps who have died in the defense of their country since 1775.

Photo:  United States Marine Corps, Quantico, VA

This brave act, carrying up and raising a larger more visible 48-star American flag taken from an amphibious LST landing craft back on the beach, was in reality the act of “…six ordinary Americans, half of the them doomed to become casualties on Iwo…”

Consider the sacrifice under the banner raised atop the hill on Iwo Jima: “Thousands of foxholes, draped with ponchos and shelter halves, pocked the island…chilled by sudden rain, harassed by heavy surf, the support and service units doggedly performed their tasks under the constant threat of artillery. On Iwo, every place seemed like the front…”

“…the exhausted Marine divisions slowly eliminated resistance…on March 16 the island was declared secure…” “ Japanese Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 man garrison died in place as ordered, many in caves providing protection against American forces. In the process, the Japanese inflicted 26,000 Marine casualties, 2,798 [U.S. Navy personnel] and 37 [U.S. Army].

Marines stand at attention when composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa’s Marine Corps Hymn is played, and of course when the ode to the Star Spangled Banner is sung – our National Anthem. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardie’s – all are at attention and saluting when the grand song of our Republic is played.

My Iwo Jima source: Semper Fidelis, The History of the United States Marine Corps,” by Allan R. Millett, published 1991 by The Free Press/McMillan, Inc.

The National Anthem and American Sports

In civilian life, especially in professional sports, the singing of the national anthem and display of the flag are very much integrated in the many symbolisms and activities of the National Football League, The American and National Leagues of baseball, and most other sports activities – professional and amateur.

Who will ever forget the powerful performance of the late Whitney Houston signing the national anthem in January 1991 in Tampa at the start of the Super Bowl XXV? Link here to watch if you have not seen it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lCmBvYMRs

And so these days there are powerful emotions attached to the actions of San Francisco 49ers (NFL) Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down when the national anthem is sung. His first act of protest was at the start of the August 26 pre-season match with the Green Bay Packers; he repeated the gesture shortly after in the pre-season game with the 49ers and San Diego Chargers. Note that was the Chargers’ annual “Salute to the Military” celebration in San Diego, a big US Navy and US Marine Corps base.

Explaining why he “sat” during the song, he explained: “I am not going to stand up [to show pride in a flag] for a country that suppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. there are bodies in the streets and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. ” (Source: NFL Media.)

The NFL also said: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.” Just to be clear about that.

In response the Santa Clara Police Union said it would boycott 49ers games. It might not provide protection at the team’s games.

Reflecting the division on the issue, a #VetsForKaepernick Twitter dialogue.

The team was circumspect in its response (remember, this is San Francisco, by political standards a liberal, even immigrant-protective “sanctuary” city): “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on our great liberties we are afforded as citizens/ Om respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

Speaking from China and the meeting of the G20 nations, President Barack Obama weighed in with the comments: “I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that need to be talked about.” President Obama said when it comes to the flag, and the national anthem, and the meaning that that holds for our men and women in uniform and for those who fought for us, that is a tough thing for them to get past [and to hear] what his deeper concerns are…”  (Source: Politico web site.)

I call this column “Stay Tuned” — and so we will, to his controversy, which has inflamed so many people’s views about our flag, our anthem, our display of love of country. There is certainly more to come in all of this during the now=accelerating presidential campaigning.  What are your thoughts on all of this?

At Crisis Time – For Companies and Celebrities, It’s Usually Not Just One Thing to Deal With

by Hank Boerner

In my career of advising clients on issue management and crisis management (and especially crisis response), I usually pointed out to  those in the crosshairs that it is not just “one thing” to deal with. Often, in time of an escalation of existing issues, a critical event occurring, or a full blown crisis at hand, the managers on point have to deal with numerous things going on.

Chaos, confusion, complexity reign. Things feel, well, like they are spinning out of control.  Often, they are!

Over the years I estimate that I’ve been involved in more than 400 critical issues and crisis situations — in various industries and sectors (auto manufacturing, banking and financial services, airlines, cruise ships, railroads, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, educational institutions, government, countries, mining, food marketing, consumer goods, oil & gas, mutual funds, stock exchanges…and more. Some of my work involves helping individuals cope with crisis eruptions. Those are vary tough assignments – emotional damage is difficult to deal with.

In my issue and crisis preparation training for managers, I stress the key, top line actions for effective response by the enterprise:

  • Know in advance what might go wrong (the potential risk posed to the enterprise or perhaps a leader such as the CEO), and monitor and evaluate those issues regularly. What “is” (facts) will surface one way or another – perhaps by a whistleblower. “Nothing is secret anymore” is my advice.
  • Develop a plan for responding to critical events; assign roles to responders and prepare them (such as with formal training).
  • Build prevention programs. Practice – drill – stress internal preparedness.
  • Establish communication channels and have content ready “in case.”
  • Respond quickly – work to reduce fear; maintain credibility; create positive perceptions where you can.
  • Work hard to control the incident, the crisis. Stress solutions. Demonstrate your values.
  • Communicate – tell your story — if not, others will fill the vacuum and their story…and yours…and set the context in which the story [of the crisis] will be told and retold in the future.

In the context of corporate crises situations, these guidelines have pretty much become SOPs. With my partners, over 25 years we helped many companies in the US and other countries put issue and crisis management programs in place.  There are other consulting practices doing the same. Yes, crisis situations still occur (cases in point including General Motors, BP, Target, the Obamacare launch) but many enterprises really are better prepared to respond that in years past.

But What About Individuals in Crisis?

For individuals involved in crisis situations — especially high wattage celebrities with brand and reputation (and future earnings) on the line — the man or woman in the crosshairs will often find themselves in uncharted territory.

As the ancient mapmakers would put on their charts of the distant oceans — here be dragons!

Right now, comedian Bill Cosby — “America’s Dad” as his brand — is dealing (or, not dealing) with a serious crisis continuing to spin out of control.

Comedian extraordinaire Bill Cosby has not been in hiding.  At 77 years of age, he is still very much in the game.  He’s been doing his one man shows across the country, 50 a year it’s reported  (My wife and I saw his show a few years ago — outstanding!) His books sit ready for purchase in many book stores and retail outlets. His TV series continues to air in syndication.

But recently a series of business decisions put him out front in media reports (of a favorable type) and stirred up allegations of sexual misconduct of years standing. Consider:

  • He was in discussions with NBC to create a new weekly TV series.
  • Netflix, the popular technology and entertainment threat to cable and broadcast dominance, had a special scheduled (“Bill Cosby 77,” featuring the  comedian as MC at the SF Jazz Center last July).
  • His old 1980s family audience TV show was doing well in re-runs (more income generation) on TV Land…possible marketing leverage for a new weekly show on NBC.
  • His books remain popular with readers and are featured in retail and on Amazon.
  • A new biography — “Bill Cosby. His Life and Times” by former CNN news leader and  former Newsweek managing editor Mark Whittaker was on the retail shelves.  Praises for Cosby in the book were by other celebrities who enjoyed cultural admiration — Mary Tyler Moore, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld.

Things were really looking up for the star of I Spy and The Bill Cosby Show, two important cultural foundation stones of many Americans’ youth.

And then…in mid-October comedian Hannibal Buress in a stand-up routine accused Cosby of being a rapist and told the audience to “Google” the record on this; he then went on the Howard Stern program on Sirius XM to repeat his charges, and pushed his views out on Twitter; The Philadelphia Inquirer “old media” giant posted the routine and the social media platforms it up.

Author Whittaker’s biography was publicly attacked by the National Review as “fawning,” glossing over the many rumors over the years about Mr. Cosby’s misconduct, and tagged the author as the “latest enabler.”  The article went viral in the nation’s politically conservative community.

Back in 2006, Philadelphia magazine published an article detailing the alleged attacks on more than a dozen women by the comedian.  The Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) district attorney (Bruce Castor) investigated claims and declined prosecution; he now has to publicly defend his prior decision.  A civil lawsuit proceeded with [there was said to be up] to 13 women that could be involved; that case was settled and sealed.

One of the women — Barbara Bowman — went public in November, publishing a commentary about her experience in The Washington Post.  That got other traditional and new media lighting up with more “news” and lots of commentary.

Other women then stepped forward — a dozen or so — repeating their stories of years ago or going public with their stories for the first time.

And the Google searches suggested by comedian Burress?  There were millions of searches, according to media reports..

Reaction was comparatively swift:

The NBC series – cancelled.  The Netflix special – cancelled. The interview with David Letterman on CBS – cancelled. The new biography’s sales were reported to be slumping. TV Land  re-runs – cancelled.

Author Whittaker’s  new biography was attacked by the National Review as “fawning,” glossing over the many rumors over the years about misconduct, and tagged the author as the “latest enabler.”  The conservative publication’s article went viral, especially within the nation’s politically conservative community.

All of sudden another “old” scandal was back in focus for the right wing:  former President Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual escapades — sure to haunt Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential race, the post writers opined. (We’ll see Paula and Monica and the other “Bill Clinton women” on  parade over the coming years, they predicted.)

The Cosby camp did respond on social media — a Twitter post encouraged the Twitter-ali to go to a web page and post comments.  They did!  Oh, not the comments that supporters would welcome, of course.

The New York Times published an in-depth story on all of this on November 20 — “Cosby Comeback Unravels as Rape Claims Flare.” The Times noted the long tail of the controversy: “The current furor surfaced surrounding Mr. Cosby had its root in accusations brought in 2005 by Andrea Constand, a female staff member with the basket ball team at Temple University (Cosby alma mater).” Despite DA Castor’s declining to prosecute, she brought a lawsuit that would possibly involve up to13 other “Jane Does.”  That was the was the civil case settled.  The “Jane Does” we can presume are those coming forward – and those planning to do so in the future.

Context is important in these matters.  And as I compose this, the news headlines scream out another complicating factor that is shaping in various ways public opinion:  “University of Virginia Suspends All Fraternities” – this after the still-remarkably relevant Rolling Stone magazine published a report that a female student was sexually assaulted by seven Phil Kappa Psi members in 2012.  The university president — a woman, by the way, Teresa Sullivan — called on her board, students, faculty, alumni…to begin a conversation on all of this.

That can be alongside the conversation about allegations or the reality of wife and child abuse by National Football League players…these have been glossed over, ignored, diminished…until there was sufficient public outrage and an apology by NFL leader Roger Goodell.  The viral video of Ravens player Ray Rice shown beating his fiancé/now wife in a casino triggered the crisis, which had been brewing for years if you think about it as anti-domestic violence advocates do.

Consider the Bold Names – Collateral Damage

Take a few seconds to read upward — note all the BOLD names in the commentary. Think about the rippling effects of the Bill Cosby crises.  The NFL crisis. The crisis today at the University of Virginia — and other universities where similar incidents have been charged by female students.  .The corporations involved with brands and revenues on the line now. The other celebrities praising Mr. Cosby.

The Role of Social Media and the Internet

Back to the Cosby case:  why are decades-old, or at least five or more years old cases being brought front and center today?  I think a profound difference is the omnipresence today of social media.  Citizen media. Everyman (and woman) media. The challenge of old media (The Washington Post, The New York Times) by new platforms like Huffington Post, even Twitter (as news source for millions of user, specially younger populations)..

We still have venerable TV national news forums  like those in the evening on CBS, NBC, ABC. (With great anchors — Scott Pelley, Brian Williams David Muir).  But since the 1980s we have 24/7 CNN as well…and many young people get their news from other “anchors” like Bill Maher (HBO) and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert (Comedy Central).  And I would throw in Saturday Night Live! parodies on NBC. On these new news platforms, humor and satire are the staples and celebrities in crisis should expect to be skewered.

But citizen media (social media) is really now the key to setting the match to a smoldering situation.  That applies to be companies like BP and celebrities like BC. As The Times’ Bill Carter, Graham Bowley and Lorne Manley noted in their November 20th Page One story: “The reach of web and social media impact have provided a distribution platform for these accusations, which had surfaced before but never gained widespread attention.”

And Martin Kaplan of the University of California’s journalism school noted: “The combination of [today’s] social media and Mr. Cosby’s return to the spotlight had propelled the story to much greater prominence that when the accusation first surfaced.”

As I said up top…Chaos, confusion, complexity reign.  UC’s Professor Kaplan explained: “The fact that he was already in the spotlight and the fact that these charges have a much more powerful amplifier and echo chamber, gives people the sense that this is a big story…”

Going back to the basic principles for crisis management — if in fact the allegations of the women accusing Mr. Cosby of serious sexual misconduct have a factual basis, as a celebrity (and therefore a “public person”) it might have been better to continue one’s career in lower profile.  In crisis management, over and over again, the lesson for leaders is clear:”what is, is” – and will come out at some time.

What are your thoughts on all this? What are the lessons learned?