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Virginia Beach photographer sparks national controversy over picture with baby wrapped in American flag

Posted at 6:23 PM, Mar 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-13 11:48:20-04

Virginia Beach, Va. - A Virginia Beach photographer's image of a Navy dad supporting his newborn in the American flag -- and the criticism of it as improper -- has sparked a national controversy pitting letter-of-the-law flag sticklers against those who say the snap is immensely patriotic.

fb1Vanessa Hicks told NewsChannel 3 an anonymous Facebook site named "You Call Yourself A Photographer" dished a dose of vitriol at the Navy veteran, her photography business, and the sailor who posed with his child in the flag. Hicks said her email was filled with what she called "cyber bullying."

"To use the American flag in such a way is disrespectful, rude, tacky, disgusting, and against the U.S. Flag Code," the anonymous author wrote on his Facebook page.  "She (Hicks) allowed that baby to pee and poop on that flag that is meant to honor our fallen soldiers. Disgusting."

That last part, the anonymous author later conceded, is something he assumed happened.

NewsChannel 3's story on the controversy led to nationwide coverage on television networks and in national newspapers. By afternoon, #flagbaby was trending. And by the thousands, Facebook users flooded the "You Call Yourself A Photographer" site to support Hicks and condemn the criticism.

"You are sad and pathetic," one wrote. Dozens of other comments aren't fit to repeat.

Again Thursday, the anonymous administrator insisted Hicks and the sailor violated the U.S. Flag Code. He called Hicks and others "lawbreakers." The code offers rules for handling and display of the American flag. The code, however, isn't enforced. Attorneys for the Congressional Research Service wrote to the Senate that  "...the Code functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups."

Click here to read the full code. 

The anonymous administrator told dissenters he is a 27-year service member who is still active duty, and he had a son who "passed away" after four years in the military. He has declined to identify himself or to explain what photography credentials he has. Today, he likened his page to a "business review" site that provides critiques of other photographers, wanted or not. He also said the site exists to shame unskilled photographers who charge for their services.

Also on Thursday, he posted without permission a similar image from an award-winning newborn photographer named Stephanie Krupicka. That, she told NewsChannel 3, sparked a round of threats delivered to her privately.

"What's wrong with these people? I am in tears," she wrote. "Since when does protecting the flag become more important than protecting a family with small children?"

Krupicka and Hicks both say they asked that their images be removed from his site, but were blocked by the page. The administrator told others Facebook's terms of service and "fair-use" laws allowed him to post other people's images.