Media flacks for McCain's false "flak" attack on Obama's spelling


Radio host Rush Limbaugh, Politico senior political writer Jonathan Martin, and other media figures uncritically repeated Sen. John. McCain's (R-AZ) attack on Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) spelling of "flack jacket" with a "c" in "flack," without noting -- as MSNBC congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira did -- that "flack" is an "alternative to the spelling of 'flak.' " Indeed, the phrase "flack jacket" with a "c" appears on dozens of military websites.

Obama, responding in part to McCain's criticism of his recent Iraq war vote, issued a May 25 press release arguing that "the course we are on in Iraq" is not "working." Obama said "a reflection of that [is] the fact that Senator McCain required a flack jacket" and other military protection when walking through a Baghdad market during a trip to Iraq in April. In a response the same day, McCain took issue with Obama's spelling: "By the way, Senator Obama, it's a 'flak' jacket, not a 'flack' jacket." In his report on McCain's attack, Viqueira cited Webster's New World Dictionary to prove that "flack" is an alternative to "flak."

The spelling of "flack jacket" with a "c" is also present on numerous military websites:

  • A photo caption from the Department of Defense's webpage: "The Norwegian Army Telemark Company is hosting the Viking Run, an annual physical fitness test in the Norwegian Army. It consists of running 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) over rough terrain wearing a combat uniform, flack-jacket, long-barrel rifle, 2 full ammunition magazines, and a helmet totaling a minimum of 11 kilograms."
  • A first person narrative, "The Most Decorated Ammunition Company in Vietnam," by retired Brig. Gen. Richard F. Allen, which appeared in the September-October 2000 edition of Army Logistician: "Laughing, he told me that at 0330 he had been awakened by the club officer, dressed in civilian clothes but wearing a steel helmet and a flack jacket and carrying a double-barreled shotgun. The club officer told him that the VC were attacking all over the place and that an attack on the officers' club could occur at any time."
  • The official transcript of a September 2001 press conference with then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld:

RUMSFELD: What we're seeing here is all of the complicated gradations and dimensions of this problem and our task -- the task of people who value freedom and the ability to get up in the morning as you people did and walk out without having to wear a flack jacket or hide in your cellar or look up and down the street for fear someone's going to shoot you.

  • A June 16, 2004, Army News Service article: "At about 16 pounds, IBA [Interceptor Body Armor] is lighter than the 25-pound Vietnam-era flack jacket it replaced and it offers better protection, [Brig. Gen. James] Moran said."
  • An article by Capt. Andra Higgs in the February 2006 issue of Contact, an "authorized publication of the Air Force Reserve's 349th Air Mobility Wing, Travis Air Force Base, California:" "'I was planning to get out of the Air Force as soon as I got back,' said Sargeant [sic] [Wilsondo] Alteus, teary eyed while standing on the dusty base wearing a desert camouflage flack jacket and Kevlar helmet."

In a May 25 weblog post on, Martin uncritically repeated McCain's attack on Obama's spelling and provided his interpretation of the criticism, but did not challenge McCain's assertion that "flack" was incorrect:

But, McCain being McCain, he can't help himself and goes the next step in the statement's kicker:

"By the way, Senator Obama, it's a 'flak' jacket, not a 'flack' jacket."

Which is to say, "there is only one of us in this argument who has ever worn the uniform." (my words)

On the May 25 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Limbaugh cited Martin's blog post, quoted the "flak" line of the McCain press release, and then emphasized McCain's point: "His spelling -- with a 'c' is how Obama spells it -- and that's wrong. There's no 'c' in 'flak.' "

Several other media outlets also uncritically repeated McCain's attack on Obama's spelling:

  • The Hill staff writer Klaus Marre wrote: "The former Navy pilot and prisoner of war then took a shot at Obama for making a mistake in his statement. 'By the way, Senator Obama, it's a "flak" jacket, not a "flack" jacket,' McCain said."
  • A link to The Hill article on The Drudge Report reported that "McCain ... [m]ocks Obama for not knowing how to spell 'flak jacket'...":

The Drudge Report later removed the link to The Hill from the top of the website and replaced it with a similar link to Martin's blog post: "McCain ... [m]ocks Obama for drug use, not knowing how to spell."

From the May 25 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: And John McCain has just -- and not just McCain, but lot of Republican candidates. But McCain has come out and just slammed Obama.

"McCain being McCain can't help it." This is from The Politico. "He goes the next step in the statement's kicker. 'By the way, Senator Obama, it's a "flak jacket," not a "flack jacket." ' " His spelling, with a "c," is how Obama spells it, and that's wrong. There's no "c" in flak.

And then, a McCain aide said this about Obama after this vote. "Barack Obama wouldn't know the difference between an RPG and a bong." Now, I know those of you in Rio Linda [California] know what a bong is, but you might not know what an RPG is -- rocket propelled grenade. This is hot and heavy. Going into the Memorial Day weekend McCain's staffer says Obama wouldn't know the difference between an RPG and a bong? A bong is a -- you smoke illegal drugs with it.

From the 2 p.m. hour of the May 25 edition of MSNBC Live:

VIQUEIRA: It started with John McCain accusing Barack Obama of being in the pocket of MoveOn[.org] and other liberal organizations who had threatened to withhold their endorsement of any candidate who voted for this thing. Well, Barack Obama responded this morning. He says that Governor [Mitt] Romney [R-MA], who also criticized him, and Senator McCain "clearly believe the course we are on in Iraq is working. I do not."

And then he goes on to point out a sort of infamous incident where John McCain and a congressman, Mike Pence [R-IN], and other conservatives were visiting a market in Baghdad a couple of months ago. And Obama says, "If there was ever a reflection of that, it's the fact that Senator McCain required a flack jacket, 10 armored Humvees, two Apache helicopters,100 soldiers with rifles to stroll through that market."

And then responding to that -- let me put down this book here for a second. Responding to that --

ALEX WITT (host): We have props.

VIQUIERA: Whoa, OK. We have props. Responding to that was Senator John McCain, who sort of paints Obama as a dilettante without the service and experience combined that John McCain has. But then he says, "By the way, Senator Obama, it's a flak jacket" -- F-L-A-K -- "not a flack jacket," F-L-A-C-K, taunting Obama on the basis of the spelling in Obama's previous press release. Well, listen, I got the dead tree edition of Webster's New World Dictionary here, 3rd College Edition, actually. It says actually that "flack" -- F-L-C-K [sic] -- setting the record straight here -- is a noun, and it's alternative to the spelling of "flak" -- F-L-A-K. Alex, that was a long way around, but I finally got to the point there.

WITT: Are you like a type-A student? Were you a type-A student in college, Mike? Were you one of those -- just kind of like -- really obnoxious, having to get every single detail right?

Posted In
The Drudge Report, Premiere Radio Networks, The Hill, The Politico
Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Jonathan Martin
The Rush Limbaugh Show
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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