On the Fox News morning couch-fest, country singer Hank Williams, Jr. had this exchange with the hosts:
HANK WILLIAMS: Remember the golf game?
STEVE DOOCY: Boehner?
HANK WILLIAMS: That was one of the biggest political mistakes ever.
HANK WILLIAMS: That turned a lot of people off. You know, watching, you know, it just didn’t go over.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: You mean when John Boehner played golf with President Obama?
HANK WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah! Yeah. And Biden and Kasich, yeah. Uh-huh.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: What did you not like about it? It seems to be a really pivotal moment for you.
HANK WILLIAMS: Come on. Come on. It would be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu, OK?
It wasn’t OK, apparently. Headlines sprouted up like weeds claiming that Williams had “compared Obama to Hitler,” or “said Obama was like Hitler.” So because ESPN figured much of its audience would think that Hank Williams compared the President to Adolf Hitler, since the media was reporting his words that way, ESPN, that paragon of courage, fired Williams as the voice of Monday Night Football. No longer will his song introduce the festivities.
I don’t need to address the question of whether ESPN’s conduct would be fair if Williams did indeed compare Obama to Hitler, because he obviously didn’t. He compared Boehner playing golf with Obama to Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu. Was he comparing Boehner to Netanyahu? No. Did anyone claim that Williams was making that ridiculous comparison, or put it in a headline? No. Is it even clear from the sentence which current statesman is supposed to be Hitler and which is Netanyahu? No again, and that’s because, for the metaphor challenged, Williams wasn’t comparing either party to Hitler or Netanyahu, but rather the meeting of two ideological opposites to a hypothetical meeting of two historical opposites.
Tell me, if Hank Williams had said, “Come on. It would be like oil playing golf with water, OK?”, would it have been anything but absurd for the bloggers to scream, “Hank Williams compares the President to oil!”
If he had said, “Come on. It would be like Jennifer Aniston playing golf with Angelina Jolie, OK?”, would it have made sense for Rolling Stone to say, “Hank Williams compares Obama to Jennifer Aniston!”
If he had said, “Come on. It would be like Rush Limbaugh playing golf with Keith Olberman, OK?”, would it have been likely that the Christian Science Monitor would write, “Hank Williams in hot water for comparing Obama to Rush Limbaugh”?
The media ganged up on Hank Williams Jr. for off-the-cuff political commentary every bit as ill-informed but considerably less offensive than Morgan Freeman’s declaration that the Tea Party opposes the President because he is black, and spread the lie—and it is a lie—that Williams was calling Obama a Nazi. As a result, Williams’ career has been harmed. His remarks were misrepresented, and the conduct of the media was intentionally and inexcusably unfair, in complete disregard of common sense, the English language, and ethical journalism.