Here’s a smarmy tweet from Matthew Dowd, who was a strategist for former President George W. Bush and who now serves as a political analyst for ABC News:
The tweet is referencing the White House’s decision to return its flag to full staff just two days after the death of Sen. John McCain (it would later take the flag back to half staff). The flag business had set off a great pious harrumphing among establishment types, liberal and conservative alike. Jake Tapper alone did so much garment-rending that for a minute I thought he’d have to host today’s show wearing nothing but a big yellow ribbon over his crotch.
And here was Dowd’s contribution to the discourse: a photo probably pulled off Google Images, where a version of it has been indexed via the website of South Carolina state Rep. Bill Hixon. It’s not hard to see why Dowd chose this particular shot. It hits all the proper elegiac notes: the flag, the soldier, the salute, the dying sun of some alien desert.
But the thing about this photo is that it’s a fake. The original was photoshopped to drop the flag to half staff.
The real photo can be seen here. It was taken in southern Iraq by Marine Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie. The soldier in the photo is her husband and fellow Marine sergeant, James E. Valrie, who died in 2009 after a bout with kidney cancer. The date was April 3, 2003, two weeks into a catastrophic war of which McCain was an enthusiastic salesman. The photo was quickly pressed into service of its own. The USAA put it on a postcard. KISS put it on their website. A Marine had it tattooed on his forearm.
“Unfortunately, with all the wonderful ways it has been used,” Carter-Valrie wrote in the Los Angeles Times on the 10th anniversary of the war, “the photograph has also been manipulated and in some cases used in ways I found disrespectful.” People flipped it so the flag flies in the other direction — “but by doing that,” Carter-Valrie pointed out, “it makes my husband look like he is saluting with the wrong hand.” Nor did she like the version, spotted on an anti-war website, in which the flag was turned upside down. Nor did she like the version, sometimes disseminated on Memorial Day, in which the flag was moved to appear at half staff.
That was the photo Dowd came across and circulated. People seem to like it. By 3 p.m., it had been retweeted more than 2,000 times. Carter-Valrie would not be happy if she saw it, I don’t think, but that’s a minor consideration when there are postures to be struck. And maybe in its fraudulence, the photoshopped image serves some larger truth. What a perfect tribute, after all — to McCain, to the war he and Dowd’s old boss wanted so badly, to the establishment ghouls who helped them sell it. A glib and phony artifact from a war sold on glib and phony pretenses.