Hoaxes & Rumors

Obama’s Cell Phone and Coffee Cup Salutes

Obama’s Cell Phone and Coffee Cup Salutes

Images show President Obama saluting marines as he speaks on a cell phone or holds a cup of coffee. Are the images real?

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The photos are real.

Let’s take a look at each photo and the backlash surrounding them.

2012 “Cell Phone” Salute

This image first circulated heavily on social media in October 2012. It was shared with such captions as:

  • “Like” if you think the President should get off his phone and return the salute properly!
  • That is very disrespectful to our military, wonder what he would think if they were to talk on their cell phones while he was coming of the plane. He is so full of himself and rude. he’s not worth a vote at all.

Although the photo circulated heavily in October 2012, it was taken on January 29, 2010 in Baltimore. The timing of its proliferation was no doubt fueled by the 2012 election season.

Here is the photo in question:

Below is the same photo from a much wider angle:

President Obama is not the first Commander-in-Chief to be criticized for his salute. GOP President George Bush was also derided for saluting marines on several occasions while carrying his dog Barney, as seen below. Some critics have claimed that there is a difference between the distraction of a cell phone and carrying an object under one’s arm.

Presidential Salute

Ronald Reagan began the modern trend of the Presidential salute, often while exiting Air Force One or Marine One (the presidential helicopter). There have been many commentaries over the years critiquing each president’s salute. Below is an interesting argument that the President should never give a military salute unless he is in uniform. It is also pointed out that President, and former General, Dwight D. Eisenhower never saluted after his military retirement.

Although the video above makes the case that the President technically may not be obliged to return a salute, it is a tradition which has existed for over 30 years.

Carey Winfrey of Smithsonian magazine wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about the Presidential Salute back in 2009. The opinion piece notes that some Presidential salutes could be described as “halfhearted to jaunty” but that “presidents deserved to be cut some slack” on the issue. Winfrey also pointed out that saluting without a cover (that is, without a hat) is also considered inappropriate, which would apply to most presidential salutes over the past 30 years.

2014 “Coffee Cup” Salute

On September 23, 2014, the White House posted a short video of President Obama exiting Marine One in New York. As he passed the saluting marines, he held his coffee-bearing hand up in a quick salute.

Critics blasted the President for this informal, coffee-holding salute. The National Republican Congressional Committee tweeted, “Wait – did President Obama just salute the Marines with a LATTE in his hand?!”

A US Navy manual on customs and courtesies holds that a salute is not appropriate in some situations, including “Carrying articles with both hands or being otherwise so occupied as to make saluting impractical.”

Bottom Line

Photos of President Obama saluting while talking on a cell phone and holding a cup of coffee are real. While the President is not technically obligated to salute, it is a 30-year tradition which has been practiced by every president since Ronald Reagan. Critics of the informal salutes have expressed the opinion that it is disrespectful to those in uniform.

What do you think of the President’s salute?

Originally published October 18, 2012.

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