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A lapel pin in the shape of a waving American Flag. If you are on American television and have a lapel, you are probably wearing one.

These ornaments became very popular in the days after September 11, 2001. Beyond the obvious message of patriotism, they were a simple nod to the collective feeling of support and unity that was felt by much of the country (and the world) at the time. Many people crafted simple versions out of safety pins and red, white and blue beads and sold them to benefit victims’ families and other related charities.

The traditional hat pin variety, however, became most ubiquitous on newscasters and other journalist-types. This trend became a minor story in-and-of-itself, once the shock and awe of the original 9-11 news cycle had abated and military action in Afghanistan was gearing up. Media critics asserted that journalists had a greater duty to objectivity than their country. Regardless of their personal feelings about the national tragedy, sincere as they may be, they were journalists first and Americans second.

In late 2001 and early 2002, the national mood was so focused on individual patriotism, or the perceived lack thereof, such a suggestion was tantamount to treason. How dare we stifle these red-blooded Americans from fully expressing their love of country? Never mind the fact that many of the 24-hour cable news outlets have international audiences, people in every profession, from teachers to musicians, were being forced to constantly validate their total support of the U.S. Government in its fight against terrorism.

Consumers of American news media will note that little has changed since that time. American flag lapel pins are as ubiquitous as ever (I did see Tim Robbins wearing a peace sign pin at the 2004 Oscars, though it mysteriously disappeared before he presented an award). While people on both sides of the political aisle can argue all day whether or not the media is biased to the left or the right, it is hard not to see the ways in which coverage is presented from a distinctly American perspective. Many people do not see a problem with this, as it seems only natural that an American journalist will “root” for his or her home team.

Of course, this is the problem in the nutshell. If the outlets of our information about the world is filtered through an American screen, rather than presented as it is, it’s not exactly fair and balanced, is it? This kind of journalism can lead to bigger problems for the journalist’s homeland. Thus, I don’t see the American flag lapel pin as a particularly patriotic message at all. It is, however, a true sign of the times, and may very well be this decade's version of the smiley face, in that it represents a preference for happy talk to an objective look at the world around us.

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