Reporter’s Pledge-Of-Allegiance Quandary Sparks Twitter Debate On Romney Trail

Mitt Romney’s rally in Mansfield, Ohio, on Monday began the way every political event begins. “Please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and our country’s national anthem.”

This is always an uncomfortable moment for me. While I sat at my laptop, most of the reporters around me stood and put their hands over their hearts. This time instead of just sitting and working, I tweeted what I was feeling:

@Ari_Shapiro: As a reporter I’m torn about joining in the pledge of allegiance/national anthem at rallies. I’m a rally observer, not a participant.

And then:

“Yet most reporters around me stand for the anthem & pledge. I’m one of the few that doesn’t. Setting myself up for accusations I guess.”

I expected a flood of vitriol. Instead, a thoughtful Twitter dialogue unfolded about what it means to be a journalist, what it means to be American, and what role the Pledge of Allegiance plays in our society. Other reporters joined in, including some sitting around me at the rally.

There were strong disagreements, sometimes passionate ones. There were witty moments of irreverence. But not once did anyone accuse me of being an America-hating Communist. Here are some highlights from that dialogue:

@ChrisJohnson82: I feel the same way. I’ve made a compromise where I stand with my hand over my heart, but remain silent.

@CarolineZilk: But you’re an American! …I say, participate unless you’re busy recording, taking a photo or writing something down.

@Monbud: As an American, of course, it’s optional to join in no matter where you are.

@StevenPortnoy: I stand with my hand over my heart. Liberty and justice for all are American ideals worthy of objective endorsement.

@Ari_Shapiro: But aren’t lots of ideas at rallies “American ideals worthy of objective endorsement?” I’m not disagreeing with the pledge.

@Tcmassie: As a former radio reporter, I had conversations with colleagues who did not register to vote, so as not to seem partisan.

@Ari_Shapiro: Yet I vote, as an independent.

@ScrollnKey: Pretty ridiculous thought. At a minimum u should participate just to celebrate that u have the freedom to choose.

@Snaggleswood: The whole concept has always struck me as a bit fascist, having to stand when demanded to affirm our allegiance.

@Shoshuga: Now if you were going to stand up and sing Hatikvah [Israel's national anthem.], then I’d completely understand your concern.

@PatOBeirne: If you are there to report, you shouldn’t participate. Just don’t be disrespectful.

@TournezVous: Do what I did when my old job’s shareholder meetings opened with prayer: bow your head & check your blackberry.

@Ari_Shapiro: Every political candidate has lines I agree with. But of course I don’t applaud in the stump speech. So why draw a line at the pledge?

@McKayCoppins: I think the argument is that the pledge is supposed to be apart from politics—not being used to elect a candidate.

@GlobeSessions: I stand (so as not to disrupt by drawing attention to the sitting man) but do not recite. Blending w/o participating.

@Kimu: AS a qualitative researcher, I aim for respectful non-participation & try to blend into the background. #FlyOnTheWall

@Slichtor FWIW, I’d stand (same for any nat’l anthem) but history has shown that there’s a fine line btwn blind patriotism & xenophobia.

@DjCiskey The pledge is a unifying, non-partisan statement of values. Reciting it w/ Ds or Rs does not imply support for their platform.

@TiChall If you were reporting from another country, would you stand when that country’s anthem was played?

@MiraOberman As a Canadian reporter I stand out of respect for anthem, pledge or prayers but don’t sing/pledge/pray along as disingenuous.

@BFreedInA2: Observe/participate line can be tough to draw. Humming along/tapping your foot to the music? The tunes they play can be catchy.

@Ari_Shapiro: Currently tapping my foot to “I Was Born Free…”

@Cakilpack: Not standing for the pledge is not neutral; it’s a statement.

This debate has a postscript.

As Romney took the stage to deliver his speech, he used a rhetorical device he debuted over the weekend at a rally in Virginia. He talked about the Pledge of Allegiance and reminisced about reciting it in his fourth-grade class. Then he used each line to make a point — about unifying the country, or strengthening the military, or the role of God in public life.

Which prompted this tweet:

@Karinchu: @Ari_Shapiro so much for the pledge being apolitical.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.