Gabby Douglas Isn't Jingoistic Enough for Fox News

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The Olympic gold medalist was one target of criticism in a segment that included the dumbest remarks on American exceptionalism yet broadcast. 


One curse of American life, dramatized in the following clip, is the fact that American exceptionalism and patriotism are invoked most often by people who've reflected on them least: 


Let's review.

Says satellite radio host David Webb, remarking on the fact that Olympic gold medal winner Gabby Douglas wasn't outfitted in American flag-themed attire when competing or standing on the podium:
What's wrong with showing pride? What we're seeing is this kind of soft anti-American feeling, that Americans can't show our exceptionalism. And frankly, if they are offended about us showing our exceptionalism, then they have that right and I don't care. And neither do most Americans.

That's a fact.
Host Alisyn Camerota suggests that perhaps Americans are less vociferous than we once were about draping ourselves in the flag because our exuberance made other countries uncomfortable. "Do you buy that theory?" she asked:
No, I don't. And frankly, why should we? Every country has the right to cheer for their team. I've been to English soccer matches. And I'm sure that the English men and women are out there cheering loudly in the pubs, and having a great time. And they should. Spain to their team, Greeks for their team, any country. But America is America, and we are a very nationalistic nation. 

We've also lost over time that jingoistic feeling. You know, the National Anthem, we sing it at baseball games. I think the National Anthem should be followed with, "Play ball." It's kind of an American thing. We've lost a little of that, you know, saying The Pledge of Allegiance. And I think that plays over into some of this soft acceptance. You know what? Red, white and blue -- wear it. Wave it. Be proud to be an American. It's not a political issue. But they make it a social issue.
So to sum up, this guy thinks that "American exceptionalism" can somehow be shown by displaying our flag more at the Olympics; and at the same time, he thinks it's absurd to object, because all the other countries do this thing that we should do in order to demonstrate we're exceptional.

Furthermore, he thinks we've lost some traditions like singing the National Anthem at baseball games, which is in fact an ongoing tradition that hasn't stopped at all; saying the Pledge of Allegiance, which school children still do every day; and being jingoistic, a word that means, via Merriam-Webster, "extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy."

Yes, if only we could get more of that. One more quote:
There's a meaning behind the red, white, and blue. It's been lost in time. The field of stars. You know, the blood that's been shed. And that's what we need to focus on, and get that out in our country.
The stars on the flag are symbols of each state and the union among them. The stripes signify the 13 colonies. Neither is the unique quality being referred to when American exceptionalism is invoked, and associating a flag with blood spilled is among the least exceptional things about ours.

What's especially crazy about all this is that after Gabby Douglas won the gold medal in the women's gymnastics all-around, she stood waving up at the crowd clad in a red, white, and blue jacket with USA written on the back. Later during the medal ceremony she wore a gray jacket with an American flag patch on the shoulder, stood atop the podium, and listened to "The Star-Spangled Banner" as an American flag was hoisted up above her. Even if that weren't all true David Webb's commentary would be nonsense, but the fact that it is all true adds to the comic ambivalence about factual accuracy that characterizes so much of what people say on Fox News.

What other enterprise would turn Olympic gold for America into an opportunity to make Americans anxious and upset about allegedly waning patriotism? It's a poisonous approach to news.   

Only one thing remains to be said, and I hope David Webb is sitting down, because he's going to be sorely disappointed when he finds out that the American flag isn't nearly so exceptional as he imagines. Behold the banner of Bikini Atoll:

bikini atol.png

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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