Saturday, October 18, 2014

Still Life With Robin: Our Attention Is Flagging

by Peggy Robin

If you are a registered voter in DC and you’ve been looking over all the election flyers and informational materials that have been been cluttering up your mailbox lately, you’ve probably seen the DC Voters guide sent to you by the DC Board of Elections and Ethics. If you are the kind of person who picks up on little anomalies, you would have been struck by something amiss about the guide: the DC flag image was upside-down on the cover. Even if you weren’t really paying close attention when you got it, you might have been alerted to the goof by news reports, either in the Post (, on CBS local news (, or on WAMU (, among others.

The weirdest thing in these reports is not the mistake itself -- it’s the response by the spokesperson for the BOEE, Denise Tolliver, who insisted that wrong-side-up flag was actually printed that way on purpose, to see if anyone would notice – a little game to engage the voters, kind of like “Where’s Waldo” but with DC’s two broad red stripes on top as the fun thing you are trying to find. Here she goes, as quoted in the WAMU report: "The plan is to put [the guide] on the website and ask voters to find the mistake…. The hint would be that it's not the content [of the guide]."

My reaction to that is….yeah, right. That’s the ticket [sarcasm indicated]. Whether you believe the flag was printed upside-down on purpose or was just a typo, followed by a quickly-concocted and good-for-the-gullible story of how it came about – either way, it doesn’t inspire confidence in the people who are in charge of running this election. Nor does it help to remember that in the last election (the April 1 mayoral primary) the BOEE was agonizingly slow in counting the ballots. (Want a fast compilation of DC BOEE election screw-ups? Go to and type “BOEE election problems” in the search box.)

Rather than continue to pile on the hapless DC BOEE, I’d like to offer another example of an upside-down flag that does not exactly explain or excuse the Voter Guide foul-up but does lend a bit of perspective. The Union Jack has been shown –or actually flown – upside down on a number of occasions, both official and unofficial, and hardly anyone ever catches it except hard-core vexillologists (that’s the multi-syllabic way to refer to anyone with expertise in the design and display of flags). Now, I’d be willing to bet that only a very tiny percentage of Americans even know that the seemingly symmetrical Union Jack even has an up and a down side to it.

Here’s a UK flag information website that first of all, describes very clearly how to tell which way of the UK flag is up …. and then goes on to call out some examples of inverted flag-flying in their own country and abroad:

Wait, there’s more! In 2012 the European Union opened with a flag raising ceremony, but somehow the UK flag went up the pole bottom first: Even worse than that was the wrong-side-up display of the flag at the 2009 official trade-deal signing with China that took place at the Prime Minister’s very own residence at No. 10 Downing Street:

Well, one thing that did not happen in any of these cases is that someone tried to explain it away with a line like, “We did it on purpose, just to see if you were paying attention.”  As we like to say here in DC, “Oh no you di’n’t!”


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

1 comment:

  1. Pleased to read in Mike Bonis' WaPo blog today that a) DC BOEE has admitted they lied when they claimed the upside-down flag image was done on purpose; and b) they are really, really sorry!