HGTV: You Can Use a Flag as a Tablecloth


“The last time I saw an American flag draped on anything was a coffin returning a fallen troop to his/her family.”

That’s what gold star mom Karen Meredith, whose son Lt. Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq in 2004, wrote to HGTV after they ran the post “Classic Fourth of July Table Setting Ideas” on their website.

“HGTV, boy did you mess up when you used the American flag as a tablecloth,” she wrote. “As the mother of a fallen soldier, I am offended that the American flag means so little to HGTV.”

The post, which has since been removed from their site, featured an American flag draped over the table as a table runner with a festive spread of colorful plates, food and flowers on top.

“Drape a large American flag over the table as a bright and festive table runner. Use a nylon flag so spills can be easily wiped off and the flag can later be hung with pride on a flag pole,” they advised.

You can see one of the photos here (we aren’t permitted to run them due to copyright restrictions).

Anyone familiar with American flag etiquette will immediately know what is wrong with this picture. Not only are they using an actual flag as decoration — but bonus! — they find it’s virtually spill proof and – double bonus! – it can be repurposed as a festive front yard decoration.

This is the same flag that is so sacred that a team of servicemembers in dress uniforms and white gloves trains for countless hours just to fold it exactly right — so that they can present it to the family of someone who died defending it.

It is not to touch the ground. You have to shine a spotlight on it at night. Damaged ones must be disposed of in a dignified manner. It is a symbol of unity, bravery, freedom and the blood of patriots.

It is not the perfect touch for your picnic.

Those who have been talking about this both on blogs and on Facebook have wondered how, exactly, HGTV let this one slip in. What could they have been thinking? Why would they so dishonor the flag?  How many stylists, photographers, editors and writers approved that picture before it went live?

But we are pretty sure we know what happened. First, let’s take a look at HGTV’s apology, posted to Facebook June 12.

“HGTV Fans, regarding the recent article that appeared on our website…This was a regrettable use of our flag and it never should have happened. We sincerely apologize and have removed the post from our website. We want to assure our fans that HGTV is proud of the American flag and everything it symbolizes for our people,” they said.

They are proud of the flag. That’s why they wanted to display it.

Which is why I’m betting that somewhere in an HGTV cubicle, that same group of stylists, photographers, editors and writers are scratching their heads in utter confusion.  “What is wrong with those readers???” they ask each other.

Because they just don’t understand. What is so wrong about using the flag as a table runner anyway? At least until you wipe the food off and hoist it up a pole, it’s just a normal piece of cloth, right?

Even writing those last two sentences made me wince. That’s because you and I know that it is not just a piece of cloth. When those stars and stripes are sewn, painted or placed together something happens that we can’t quite explain – but suddenly they become the symbol of something higher than us, something worth fighting for … something worth dying for.

The problem is, then, that the average American doesn’t understand that. He hasn’t sacrificed. He hasn’t lost friends or family. To him it is an easy symbol love of country and freedom — but not a symbol due the utmost respect.

But perhaps he believes that because that is what he’s been taught. After all, the flag is in front of him everywhere  —  on flip flops, beach towels, bikinis, swim trunks, throw pillows, door mats, paper plates, t-shirts, dog bandanas, folding beach chairs, napkins. No one bats an eye at those things. They’re all in good fun and patriotism, right?

In the United States, we generally accept that flag prints and the actual flag itself are two different things. Yet when things like this HGTV blunder occur, I wonder if expecting Americans to recognize the nuanced differences between “flag-like” and “actual flag” may be asking too much.

We are raising generations of Americans who don’t really get the fuss over a flag. They think the flag at Iwo Jima was a decoration on a pole. They think a flag in a shadow box is a tschotchke to sell at a garage sale. They think a flag that used to fly outside the American home on Flag Day is a flea market find, a vintage scrap, a charming antique.

But the flag isn’t an antique at our house. It never will be.

Around here, we remember all too well what the flag is meant to do — and who it covers when he or she is transferred home.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.

63 Comments on "HGTV: You Can Use a Flag as a Tablecloth"

    • GoldStar757 | March 17, 2015 at 5:57 pm |

      I dont Like to See the Flag As table Covering I think they are Wrong on that The Photo of Soldier and Baby I dont see it as Disrespectful
      I dont want to see My Flag As A table Covering My Spouse Was Command SCPO 30 Year Navy Arlington National DC So the Flag Should Be Respected Not a Table Covering

  1. How did it happen. Lol. I would be willing to bet my retirement that not a single person who works there has spent a single moment defending this country. I would say they are a bunch of screaming liberals who have no respect for anything sacred they only care about their TV show and ratings. Certainly if one just one person along the line there had been in the military they would have known better but just an example of people wrapped in the blanket of freedom other provide doing what makes them happy regardless of what is right.

    • We have a President that has no respect for the flag. He refuses to salute the flag himself. When I went to school (1950s and 1960s) we were taught the respect the flag deserves. We placed our hands over our heart to show respect to the flag at all times the flag was presented. My teaching was reinforced in the military and I tried to pass this pride on as a scout leader. We had flag ceremonies at every meeting. We went to the local school and recieved permission for the scouts to raise and lower the flag every day. It grew as a natrual thing for the scouts. They were laughed at at first but soon there was a crowd of fellow students around. It all comes down to education and pride. Our country is lacking in both. John

    • Jennifer G | June 15, 2013 at 10:00 am |

      Ron, you were probably right until you got to your "screaming liberals" comment. My father & I could both be called "liberals", but he (may he rest in peace) served in the US Army in Europe during WWII, & I'm also an Army veteran; so are my husband & his (late) father. Party politics has no part in someone's patriotism; it's all on an individual basis, as we can all see by the behavior on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

      • I agree here Jennifer. I am an Army vet, my father was a Marine in the 50's and 60's, and we could both be call "liberals". As could my 21+year career Army officer husband. I find it tacky at the least and disgusting for HGTV to have done this.

    • Queens Moll | June 17, 2013 at 10:23 am |

      Ignorance of flag rules are not limited to liberals. I never served in the military, but I do know when and how to fly the flag and that it shouldn't be used as a tablecloth or made into clothing. Political affiliation has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence as witnessed by your very stupid comment.

    • Pretty sad. I served as a NCOIC on a burial detail while serving in the 101st ABN Division. We have the means to teach bi lingual education in this country but we fail teaching our students how to display, fold and honor our flag. If folks had been present at the many, and I mean many funerals as I have been present at, they would understand the outrage about the flag being used as a table cloth. Go figure

  2. I still cringe at the American flag bikinis, but I was surprised at my own disbelief when I pictured the designers patting themselves on the back for being crafty enough to choose a tablecloth so easily cleaned after being littered with trash and spilled food and drink. Glad they apologized, but I agree that they are probably just sitting around scratching their heads about why we don’t appreciate the “gesture”.

  3. This is a good example of ignorance at it's best. To those of us associated with the military the flag means profound respect, honor, sacrifice and pride (just to name a few). But in the civilian world the flag is generally seen as a source of pride, patriotism and an iconic symbol of our great country…but in most cases nobody has TAUGHT them to stop and consider the deeper meanings. While I do not have a problem with flag being portrayed on everything from bikinis to paper plates; it deeply pains me to see an actual flag being misused. And it's usually because the person doing it doesn't know any better. I firmly believe that all schools need to teach not only the history of our flag, but flag etiquette and why it is more than just a symbol of America to our veterans and their families.

    • oldbrokendownretiree | June 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |

      Brandi; you are spot on and the schools used to teach the history of the flag and how it came to be the ultimate symbol of what our country stands for, but in the last 20 years all of that has been removed for fear of offending those who want to live here bt don't want to endulge in the patriotism that is the "American" way of life

  4. There are many do's and don'ts when it comes to our flag which are spelled out in the US Flag Code. In this day and age, unfortunately, many citizens do not know the proper respect that is supposed to be given to the flag. Examples? Those pictures we've all seen of service member's babies that use our flag as a prop either to wrap the baby in, or lie them on, drape over them, etc., etc. are a big no-no! Also, the singing of the National Anthem and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance (both events that use our flag) aren't the only times to put your right hand over your heart. Being military spouses, chances are at some point we find ourselves at a Birthday Ball or a parade. Many do not know you are supposed to stand and place your hand over your heart whenever the flag passes by you at those events. At military ball after military ball, I have seen only a handful of spouses who know to place their hands over their hearts when the flag passes them as the colors are marched on and off.

  5. And the top advertisement on this page is a pair of high heels in a FLAG print. Every time the flag design is used as a print, it is an insult.

  6. People don't respect the office of the President, whether they agree with the politics or not, why would they respect the flag

  7. This is all ridiculous. The flag is an object. It symbolizes ideas. Patriotism and love for our country is a beautiful thing, but when we subject our morals by being offended by the use of objects, we have forgotten what is important. Many of you would laugh at the dropping of the Qur'an or the worshipping of a golden cow, but you're the same way with the flag.

    The love for our country can be shown in any form. We can't get this offended. I have had family in the military for generations. The true test of freedom is their service, not some material probably manufactured in China that has red, white and blue on it.

  8. I respect the flag but I don't fly it anymore because of Obama. I lost all hope for this country when he got re-elected. I have my flag respectfully in an enclosed case but I don't take pride in this country anymore.

    • Please reconsider….. Fly the flag!

    • We are Americans, and that flag represents not only the 50 states who make up our nation, but the 13 original colonies from which our nation was born. It symbolizes that we are a government of the people. Presidents come and go. They aren't kings, and there are powers to keep the president in check. There will be another election and another president. There will not be another flag in four years or a new name for our country. Many, many people have given their lives so that you could fly that flag in your yard AND so that you could choose not to fly it if you do not want to. However, I urge you to lean toward the support of those who find hope in that flag, knowing that this too shall pass. I personally, would NEVER say that I have given up on my country. That is how tyranny gains power and nations fall.

  9. You can also tell your friend and associates that anything that touches your butt should not have an American Flag theme (i.e. bathing suit, beach towel, shorts)

  10. Fort Huachuca | June 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm |

    And the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (!) is selling potholders and gloves, sure to get dirty and greasy, with a flag design.

    • Phillip S | June 14, 2013 at 3:50 am |

      That is not the same as a really flag. It maybe in poor taste. But it is a design print to look like the flag or flag colors and not a really flag

  11. Some of you need to learn the difference between a actual FLAG and a pair of flip flops with the stars and stripeson them. A flag misused… got it. But relax on the merchandise. Its America and people are proud. Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill.

    • oldbrokendownretiree | June 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |

      This I agree with, but HGTV used an actual flag, this I have a problem with.

  12. Phillip S | June 14, 2013 at 3:48 am |

    Really, HGTV is that stupid????
    What next HGTV – How to use the flag as Butt Wipe, or How to use it to blow your nose on or How to use the flag as a floor mat??????

  13. ronnie pond | June 14, 2013 at 7:13 am |

    The only thing disrespectful in using the American Flag is if you take it down,throw it in the dirt,Stomp on it and Are burn it. To me that is a atrocity.other then that if you use it to bind some one wounds ,cover a body,cover a table to sit food on, that is acceptable,if you use it to cover your self to keep warm in its folds that is acceptable. No American should ever discrete our flag by spiting on it.defecating on it urinating on it are burn can be picked up off the ground and reused if it was thrown there by some terrorist.and wave it in their face while you clean his plow with a billet are a knife.Are just kick his butt for throwing your Flag on the ground.That was settled way back in the sixty/seventies with all the hippies and such running wild.We the united states have had a lot of controversy over our flag.the best place for it is on a flag pole waving over our heads.with us the U.S. supporting it and daring any one nation are individual desecrating it.

    • oldbrokendownretiree | June 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

      Ronnie; you do realize that the flag has been torn into shreds to bind the woulds of soildiers during the wars this country has been in don't you? It is also used to cover the aluminum casket of a service member killed in battle on thier final ride home, you should have to be there during an HR ceremony (HR stands for Human Remains) we referred to it as an Angel Flight and once you have seen it displayed as the ultimae respect to our honored war dead, you would never, ever want to see it displayed on any table as a decortive cloth. Other than that I agree with your post except please remember to capitalize United States. thanks

  14. I stopped watching HGTV YEARS ago when they took off all the real craftsmen and replcaded them with man/woman teams or a women only who try to convince you that you can remodel a room for $3.79 using tissue paper and cardboard.

  15. Vietnam Veteran | June 14, 2013 at 10:13 am |

    This has nothing to do with Liberals or Conservatives or Political Parties. Stupid crosses all genders, races and political affiliations.

  16. Darwin king | June 14, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  17. " the average American doesn’t understand…" I am respectfully beginning to be bothered by statements like that: I think folks like those at HGTV are still in the minority. I think, especially "the average American" has a great deal of respect for flag, and the US military.

    • sp garman | June 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm |

      If that's the case, then you can count the beauty industry there. I am a hairstylist, and I've personally seen people in hair shows wear dress military uniforms while partially naked. I've seen real flags sewn into costumes for the models to wear. My daughter included. She was a minor, and I did NOT know that the outfits were made from actual flags. I was pissed when I found out way after the fact. I'm no longer in the beauty industry at that level. The ignorance is overwhelming. I just co own my hairsalon, and work in it part time, since I am disabled from military duty. That is all I care to involve myself in it.


  19. Anderson Williams | June 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm |

    It literally made me ill when I looked at the picture you were allowed to display. I absolutely cannot imagine that a program with such a great reputation has someone on staff so ignorant as to use the flag in such a disrespectful manner! Just knowing that this setting had to get passed no telling how many people before it was used on a program is even more bothersome. I think the entire staff desperately needs a refresher course on flag etiquette. Sad but too often the case. It also bothers me when I see American Olympic Athletes use the flag as a drape after winning an event. I have seen many kneel on the ground and also allow the flag to drag. Am I the only one who finds this highly offensive. Draping a flag across their sweaty bodies should be ended immediately. They could show national pride by having red white and blue striped drapes vx. the American flag. If it is not a flag they are using, then I am wrong; however, they certainly look like American flags to me. Who is providing these flags for this use? Is this something that is approved by the president that I am totally ignorant of. Maybe someone can clarify it for me. If not, I hope others will join me in calling for an end to this use and thus senGding a messages to other nations to do the same and have more respect for their flag and those who have died to preserve it!

  20. I was angry enough at the incident. Then came the Facebook apology and the comments beneath. “It’s just freaking material! Get over it” … “Some people will find anything to be offended about.” … “Dying for fabric is just stupid!” … “If you don’t like it, don’t look! Your opinion doesn’t make it illegal!” And one of my favorites is an Officer’s wife claiming she’s going to use the flag on her table for her husband’s welcome home party. One of the worst is a woman claiming to be a Navy veteran of 12 years, claiming there are no rules about flag etiquette. The comments are disgusting and shockingly insensitive, and I hope with all my heart they only represent the low IQ HGTV viewers who only know about decorating and don’t hold positions of power. Thank you so much for this post! Even after a week of first reading about this, I’m still so infuriated. It’s therapeutic to come here and read comments by people who understand why this is so disturbing and appalling.

  21. Jack Green | June 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm |

    I believe that those who have fought & defended this country did so in order that stupid, crazy people have the right to be stupid and crazy.

    • They don't have the right to break the law, and using an American flag – a real one, not just a pattern – is illegal. By your logic, people have the right to sell drugs, commit murder, rob banks, and abuse people. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say we have the right to break the law, so no, our soldiers/sailors/pilots are not defending the rights of people to abuse the American flag.

  22. GOD HELP US –For they Know not What Their Saying

  23. A perfect example of why after a career in the military (Marines in my case) many retirees find the transition difficult. As one retired Marine wrote in his book… Anyone can be a civilian, you don't even have to take a physical.

  24. Pam raymond | June 19, 2013 at 7:55 pm |

    Shame Shame Shame on HGTV!!! Using the flag for something other than at a funeral of flying or displaying it correctly should have been a no brainer for your company. It will make me think twice before I watch any more of your shows. Get a book on flag etiquette before you make any more stupids mistakes !!!

  25. Jeff Berg | June 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  26. Margo McCann | June 25, 2013 at 10:01 am |

    Instead of the American flag, maybe a solid color flag would make for a better table cloth? And the you would be able to have colors that compliment your home.

  27. Not honoring or knowing anything about our FLAG and what it stands for and represents, can be traced directly back to the "yahoos" who sat on the US Supreme Court and made the idiotic ruling that trampling, burning, defiling in any manner the FLAG of the United States was "freedom of speech", and therefore allowed. No-one to this day has convinced me that such ACTIONS is "free speech". All it is, is someone PHYSICALLY abusing or tarnishing and destroying the one singular symbol of our Country that millions have laid down their lives for and were/are buried under that Red, White, and Blue Banner. As the children of today are barely taught any history of our Country in schools, how do we expect them to know, respect and love our Flag and great nation. Capping it all is the elected officials at all level of government, who also do not know nor do they care to know. Just my humble opinion of this whole issue. Yes, HGTV was guilty of a major goof, they did apologize for it. Lets move on.
    What I am waiting for is to see the Flag carrier walk into the Olympic field or stadium and dip our Flag to whoever is the host country's leader. The dipping of our flag has NOT been done since 1908; and ANYONE who does it, should be run out of town tarred and feathered on a rail.

  28. I understand your point Meg, and while I agree whether someone chooses to respect the flag or not is on their own accord, a major company with media capabilities should not be broadcasting it to the public as a "great idea." It is against the Flag Code of the USA. It is wrong.
    Some people may not hold the Flag as a symbol that is loved and respected. As some people do not hold say, a crucifix as a symbol to be respected. I would not suggest that we place across the table for our Easter Brunch and its okay to spill our food and drinks upon and then just wipe it down and hang it back on the wall.
    It is not ok to promote the desecration of a symbol that people believe in. Our military service members and families believe in what they are fighting for and the flag symbolizes that freedom more than anything. JMO.

  29. You did not give to the flag but someone else did. It is not the flag but what it stands for and you are right you have the right to say what you want to since other people gave–some all— Go get your BUTT shot at and give your time then I might listen to your part of this–Just like a reporter!!!! tell it like it is not. A Vet and proud of it

  30. oldbrokendownretiree | June 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm |

    Meg, why don't you just burn it instead? I mean, that is what you're saying isn't it? Our troops, your husband one of them, go off to war to defend our values and freedoms and the flag that is the highest representation of those values and you say we have the right to choose whether or not to respect the symbol of everything that our country stands for? I would think that you, being from a military family would have a different view of this subject and fully understand the meaning and sybolism of the flag of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA; but alas, I remembered to read the entire article and saw that you are a journalist and that explained it all. To your husband and family, I say thank-you for your sacrifice, to you I say get your head wired straight and quit disrespecting that which your husband is laying his life on the line to defend.

  31. My bad, I forgot how few of us can engage in a real, respectful conversation—with many valid perspectives—without attacking the lives or professions of people we don't even know. Peace.

  32. Patricia Spayd | June 20, 2013 at 11:04 am |

    I served active duty in the Air Force during Vietnam. It was unpleasant to be called 'baby murderer', as was my late husband, who's funeral flag draped his coffin. Your relatives fought in the military, but you haven't done such service yourself – so until you do – you still sound like a 'civilian' to me. Our American Flag symbolizes our Freedoms and Rights. So I hang it on a flagpole and fly it proudly, it makes me smile – it's not on a pedestal.

  33. Chief Boring | June 14, 2013 at 9:26 am |

    Mongol…My first thought was to explain the meaning of the flag to you, and why we who have served under it respect it and get upset when others don't. Then I read your post again and realized no amount of explaining it to you would get through the fog and ensure yout comprehension, so, never mind,and have a nice uninformed day. Chief Boring

  34. oldbrokendownretiree | June 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |

    Mongo, you're an idiot!

  35. You can't really believe what you wrote here. If you are serious you need to talk to a service member or veteran and learn about our flag and what it means and stands for. Look at the other posts here. It is the law that the flag be respected.

  36. Patricia Spayd | June 20, 2013 at 11:11 am |

    Lord Have Mercy, you poor little thing! Not a clue in the world. The Chief is right. How utterly sad.

  37. " It's just a piece of cloth with a pattern on. " You're serious? You've got to be kidding. I mean, I don't even know what to say to that. Maybe you can take it up to a soldier, or perhaps with a family who lost their loved one in Iraq or anyplace, really. They will surely know what to say to you.

  38. Don't waste your breath Chief, some people just don't get it….

  39. mongolberry | June 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  40. oldbrokendownretiree | June 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |

    Stay on topic, the issue was respect for the flag not respect for shady characters

Comments are closed.