The broadcast networks interrupted their regular programming to cover the cheering that erupted this morning when the Confederate battle flag was taken down from the South Carolina Capitol grounds, ending a decades-long fight that re-ignited when a white supremacist murdered nine black members of an historic Charleston church as they attended bible study.
ABC, CBS and NBC joined cable news networks this morning to cover the crowd gathered around the flag as they began to chant “Take it down!” Take it down!” while lawmakers and family members of the victims stood on the steps of the capitol building to witness the moment.
“We heard such a reaction – and now they’re chanting ‘USA!’,” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos observed as an honor guard from the South Carolina Highway Patrol marched toward the flag pole.
“In a simple and dignified ceremony history was made,” marveled NBC’s Matt Lauer as the flag was removed, folded and marched off, adding, “It remains to be seen” if its removal ushers in a “new era for their state and new era of racial harmony in this country.”
“That is it for the flag… but those emotions will linger,” chimed in Stephanopoulos.
Two weeks earlier, the broadcast networks had interrupted programming to cover, in its entirety, the 40-minute eulogy President Obama delivered for one of the shooting victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, which ended with Obama singing Amazing Grace. This morning Obama tweeted: “South Carolina taking down the confederate flag – a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future.”
Just yesterday afternoon, cable news nets showed the state’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signing the removal of the flag into law, after what was considered a remarkably quick vote by political standards. She gave nine pens to members of the shooting victims’ families.
The flag, which is for many a symbol of racism but, for some, a banner of their “Southern pride,” first was raised above the South Carolina State House in Columbia to protest the civil rights movement in 1962. Opponents have long campaigned for its removal and, in a 2000 compromise, it was moved from the actual building’s dome to the flagpole on the Capitol grounds, which is where it continued to fly when the nine churchgoers were gunned down – noticeably the only flag that was not lowered to half staff.
The press had been told the flag installation did not have a pulley system allowing it to be raised and lowered. That was demonstrated to be untrue this morning, when an honor guard member lowered it in a few short minutes.
“There has been so much attention” on Haley since the church slaughter, Lauer said, wondering what impact today’s gesture would have on her career and political future. The network’s Sunday Beltway show host Chuck Todd described Haley as a “once and future rising star who maybe tried to be a national star too soon in that first term,” and who has acknowledged she was “late to the game” of getting this flag removed but, Todd speculated, without her, the state’s Republican legislature probably not have accomplished the vote that brought it down.
All that Haley-and-her-brilliant-politicial-future talk by the NBC News-ers followed Today show exclusive sit down with Haley before the flag-removing ceremony, in which she was asked if she thought the flag removal would boost or hurt her political career. After five years of dismissing calls to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds (last year she called her re-election opponent’s call to remove the flag a desperate stunt) this morning she told Lauer the Confederate battle flag on the property belonged in a museum, whereas the Statehouse is “an area that belongs to everyone, and no one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel pain – no one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel they don’t belong.”
Haley then invoked the name of one of the shooting victims, Ethel Lance, and began to recite a song she said Lance used to sing:
One day at a time sweet Jesus
That’s all I’m asking of you.
Just give me the strength
To do everyday what I have to do.