Accessibility links

UPDATED: Abandon Ship! Democrats Torpedo Own Convention With Russian Gaffe

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral John B. Nathman speaks in front of a giant backdrop of what turns out are Russian Navy warships at the Democratic National Convention on September 6.

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral John B. Nathman speaks in front of a giant backdrop of what turns out are Russian Navy warships at the Democratic National Convention on September 6.

First, it was the Republicans who came in for a lot of second-guessing at the party's presidential nominating convention in the southern U.S. city of Tampa in late August, following Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood's rambling, much-ridiculed 12-minute speech to an empty chair intended to represent U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

How could the famously tightly scripted convention runners, it was asked, allow such a gaffe to occur?

An old photograph of Obama and former President Bill Clinton laughing uproariously -- but with a new thought bubble above a knee-slapping Clinton that said simply "Clint Eastwood" -- went viral shortly thereafter.

Well, he who laughs last, as they say, laughs longest.

The Democratic Party is now catching grief in the wake of a September 11 report in the military newspaper "Navy Times" about a major gaffe that occurred at its own national nominating convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6.

It seems that a flag-waving speech by retired Navy four-star Admiral John B. Nathman, intended to honor the nation's veterans, was illustrated with a humongous, three-story backdrop of...four Russian warships.

As one wag at the Independent Journal Review opined, "The Cold War's over, but it's not that over."

Wrote the "Navy Times":

While retired Adm. John Nathman, a former commander of Fleet Forces Command, honored vets as America’s best, the ships from the Russian Federation Navy were arrayed like sentinels on the big screen above.

These were the very Soviet-era combatants that Nathman and Cold Warriors like him had once squared off against.

“The ships are definitely Russian,” said noted naval author Norman Polmar after reviewing hi-resolution photos from the event. “There’s no question of that in my mind.”

Naval experts concluded the background was a photo composite of Russian ships that were overflown by what appear to be U.S. trainer jets. It remains unclear how or why the Democratic Party used what’s believed to be images of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at their convention.

Experts say the ships in question are sprouting distinctly Russian radar systems and are also flying a large white flag on their sterns featuring a blue X -- the Cross of St. Andrew's, a well-known Russian Navy symbol.

The "Navy Times" was alerted to the massive mistake by Rob Barker, a former Navy electronics warfare technician, who said he was "in shock" after witnessing the blunder.

An apology from the Democratic National Convention Committee would be appropriate, Barker says.

That still hasn't materialized, although a committee spokesman says they're looking into what exactly happened and, it's presumed, who was responsible. Did someone say "walk the plank"?

No comment yet, either, on the snafu from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who famously called Russia "without question" the United States' "No. 1 geopolitical foe" in an interview with CNN on March 26.

[UPDATE: The Democratic National Convention Committee issued an apology hours after this post, blaming "vendor error."]

-- Grant Podelco

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

Show comments