Hank Williams, Jr.: Victim of a Political Correctness Mugging

Wait---Hank Williams Jr. thinks Obama is like Jennifer Aniston?

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.

    CO-HOSTS: Why?

    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.

29 thoughts on “Hank Williams, Jr.: Victim of a Political Correctness Mugging

  1. I sort of thought the same thing… at first. Then I watched the tape.

    What you cite here wasn’t the entirety of the exchange. It continued:

    Kilmeade: I don’t understand that analogy, actually.
    Williams: Well, I’m glad you don’t, brother, because a lot of people do. You know, they’re the enemy. They’re the enemy.
    Kilmeade: Who’s the enemy?
    Williams: Obama! And Biden. Are you kiddin’? The Three Stooges.

    And later:
    Carlson: You used the name of one of the most hated people in all the world to describe, I think, the President, which…
    Williams: That is true, but I’m telling it like it is…

    Williams is not exactly a genius on the best of days, but I’ll bet you twenty bucks he was either drunk or stoned during that interview, and he made it clear that yes, he was in fact linking the President of the United States to Hitler.
    If anyone is misrepresenting the exchange, it’s The Blaze, who oh-so-casually cut off the end of the conversation–you know, the part where Williams had the opportunity to clarify that he really wasn’t making a connection between Obama and Hitler, but chose instead, by tonality and inflection, to underscore that he meant precisely that (and to suggest that anyone who didn’t interpret his remarks as just such a comparison was a moron). He subsequently responded to a direct question about whether he was in fact describing the President as Hitler with “that is true.”
    And he also tossed in a freebie that the President and Vice President of the United States are “the enemy.” Williams’s meaning was clear enough to Gretchen Carlson that she actually concluded the segment this way: “I just want to say that we disavow any of those comments or analogies that he’s made, at least I’m going to say that, disavow the analogy between Hitler and the president.” Let’s just say that Ms. Carlson can hardly be accused of being a representative of the liberal media.
    Mr. Williams behaved like an idiot, and ESPN was right to distance themselves from him.

    My comments at greater length are here.

    • I’ve watched it Rick. 1) the media reports that claimed Williams was comparing Hitler to Obama didn’t use the subsequent parts of the interview to prove it. 2) “They’re the enemy” is not inconsistent with my interpretation at all. Hitler and Netenyehu are enemies; so are Jen and Angelina. “Why is Boehner meeting with the enemy?” doesn’t translate to “Obama is Hitler.” 3) You’re reading a lot into “That is true…”

      Since when is acting like an idiot the criteria for firing a performer—especially a Country Western performer? Apparently only when said idiot is critical of Obama. The entire cast of the View is Hank Williams-idiotic daily, Alec Baldwin’s been tweeting about his Truther theories—gee, he still has his jobs. Did you see Danny DeVito when he was smashed on the view and mocking George Bush?

      It’s a media effort to chill expression that the media doesn’t like—the message is pretty clear, and poor, dumb Hank was a ridiculous show case.

      • We’re ultimately talking about multiple events: the statements themselves, the media response, the ESPN response: if you want to isolate the “media handled it poorly” argument, I’ll won’t disagree, although I am, as usual, less willing than you to ascribe motives other than simple incompetence.

        But I stand by my analysis that Williams said, meant, and reiterated, the Obama = Hitler linkage. You say I’m reading a lot into “that’s true.” Well, that’s true. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But I’d argue that his body language, vocal inflection, and similar clues also support my reading. So does Gretchen Carlson’s walk-back. Moreover, if I’m over-reading “that’s true,” I think you’re ignoring it altogether.

        There is no doubt in my mind that Williams absolutely intended to compare Obama to Hitler. That is not clear in the truncated transcript, but it is manifest later. You are of course free to disagree, but I think you’re dead wrong. We can have a more nuanced disagreement about whether making that analogy (assuming, as I believe, that he did so) should have gotten him fired. I think so. That kind of rhetoric, coupled with the whole “enemy” thing crosses the line, and it embarrasses the corporation. That other entertainers (I don’t know the specific incidents you mention, and frankly don’t care to look them up) may have deserved to be fired in the past for similar offenses has no effect on what should happen to Mr. Williams. Finally getting it right is better than continuing to get it wrong because that’s the way it’s always been done.

        • I really do believe that confirmation bias rears its head here. I went into the video assuming that what I had read was correct. I have no truck with blathering CW stars. But I don’t think you can possibly know what Williams meant with his analogy, since I doubt he knew himshimself. He was comparing meetings, And if Obama was being compared to Hitler in the sense of Hitler would be an “enemy” of Netanyahu like Obama is Boehner’s “enemy,” that STILL isn’t “comparing Obama to Hitler.” How does Williams think Obama is like Hitler? In a comparison, it must be revealed what is being compared. They are both slim? Both are stirring speakers? Both dictators? Both evil? Both mad? In the absence of the most outrageous options, the media’s reporting is affirmatively misleading.

        • One more point: ESPN is justified in firing Hank if it believes his statements in any way undermine Monday Night Football or are going to be harmful to the station. It can’t possibly. Does anyone think fans of the NFL and Country Western music give a flip about what Williams’ half-baked political view are? The episode is more reminiscent of the Juan Williams flap, with ESPN as NPR. Now THAT’s something I never thought I’d write.

  2. Mr. Williams said he was telling it like it is. He called the Obama administration the enemy. Mr. Williams said that he doesn’t believe in compromise. That the golf outing was a mistake. How was it a mistake? So Mr. Williams as a celebrity has the right to say what he says, but Morgan doesn’t? You disqualified Mr. Freeman, yet you want to qualify Mr. Williams? How convenient.

    • You don’t see the difference between one guy expressing his opinion of events and leaders, and the other calling an entire political party and a lot of fair and thoughtful citizens “racists.” I would say that you have a problem discerning important distinctions. Note that nothing untoward career-wise has befallen Freeman for denigrating about 51% of Americans, and Williams has lost a job because he was critical of a President that over 50% of the country is also critical of. I don’t thin k either of them should be “punished,” but for Williams to be the one who is, particularly because of something he DIDN’T say (he would not have lost his job for calling the president what the president called people like him, I hope) is unconscionable.

      “Enemy” easily flows from “adversary” and “opposition”—it’s wrong, but we’re talking a bad choice of words by a high school grad here. “Racist” meant racist—Freeman said exactly what he meant, and it was ignorant and slanderous. Williams said he doesn’t like Obama. That’s TRUE, whether you agree with how he feels or not. See the distinction?

      Watch the “how convenient” crap, please. I have no bias here, and I would reach the same conclusion if Hank Williams said that supporters of Obama were racists and Freeman said that Obama shouldn’t have met with Boehner because it was like Jesus meeting Whore of Babylon and got booted from his latest voice-over.

      Obama, by the way, was the first one to throw out the “enemy” term, if you’ll recall, and I hold him to a higher standard of

  3. Any time the name Hitler is used there’s going to be a big stink raised. Hitler is the catchword for anyone perceived as evil,dictatorial,etc. Still,why people persist in these childish activities is beyond me,that is building mountains out of molehills. “He said this!!” “She did that!!” Let’s leave the playground already.

    • Well, you know what? The fact that Hitler is misused, over-used, and offensively used does not make all uses of Hitler for illustrative or argument purposes misuse, excessive, or offensive. Hitler is a historical character and a unique one….though he is not uniquely evil. I’m not going to knuckle-under to some kind of arbitrary discourse rule—if Hitler serves my purpose and its a vivid analogy, I’m using him. Williams’ use wasn’t inappropriate at all—if he’s trying to show two politicians who are such polar opposites that a meeting ininherently pointless, as he was maintaining, then Hitler and any head of Israel is legitimate. I could think of better ones, but Hank’s no historian, and shouldn’t be held to that high a standard.

  4. It’s not so much what Williams meant but in how the public perceives it also. Most people hearing what he said would conclude he’s comparing Obama to Hitler in the most unflattering way,as if there could be any other way. The media has a responsibility,though,to not feed into that perception.

    • Hank isn’t a public speaker, or a pundit, and I agree that someone listening casually might well think he was doing what he was not. It’s the job of the media to clear up confusion, not encourage it.

  5. I absolutely agree Karla. The media, celebrities and the candidates have done this. It isn’t dealing with the real issues.

  6. “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.” Sorry Jack I just couldn’t let this one go! As you said, “It was priceless!”

  7. Pingback: Hank Williams, Jr.: Victim of a Political Correctness Mugging

  8. For better or worse, his remarks make clear that Obama was Hitler in his analogy. So while you may have a beef with ESPN on whether that’s worth pulling a song (not sure it is), it would be intentionally and inexusably unfair to blame the media. Frankly, it’s probably not worth all that — or this — coverage, but it certainly doesn’t show an ethical lapse. He’s a singer, not a political expert. After the ESPN question, the question to ask is “Why were the commentators so determined to talk politics with a singer?” They had a legend on TV. Wouldn’t it have been OK to talk music?

    • His remarks do NOT make that clear at all, and I don’t believe that was what he was saying. Nor is it fair to conclude that he was, when the claer meaning of his words are otherwise. That’s an assumption and a presumption, and not supported. He was comparing meetings of diametrical opposites, not comparing the individuals is any way.

  9. He said Obama is the enemy! Don’t excuse him. You are the one that is presuming and assuming. What he did was just as bad if not worse. He went after an individual not a group. He was given an out and he affirmed what he had said. I am not interpreting it different than what I saw or read. Gretchen Carlson was even taken aback. He should have never been asked about his political views. Just as Mr Freeman shouldn’t have been. and as you said before, they should have respectfully deferred.

  10. What’s so hard to understand about how this was reported? 1, Williams compares Obama to Hitler and admits that it’s what he was saying. 2, various media outlets and bloggers report it just that way. 3, ESPN pulls singer’s song from football game. Blame Williams for saying something sure to enflame passions, if you want. Blame ESPN for overreacting, sure. But don’t blame the press.

    • That’s not what happened. That’s what you want to believe happened, Iguess. Williams did not compare Obama to Hitler, and his statement that Obama and Biden were “the enemies” did not change the meaning of what he said initially. The statement that Boehner should not play golf with ‘the enemies” does not translate into a comparison of Hitler with Obama, His statement with clear—Boehner playing Golf with Obama is like A playing golf with the anti-A. That’s what he said, that’s what I immediately understood him to say. Then he said he didn’t like Obama. The press intentionally or stupidly misreported it.

      I have no idea why you want to interpret the words he uttered against their clear meaning, or excuse the press claiming that Williams implied Obama was like Hitler when he did not. I believe the press is absurdly and unprofessionally protective of Obama, and what happened to Williams is in fact an effort to stifle criticism. Even stupid criticism and incoherent criticism shouldn’t be gang-jumped by the press on false pretenses…Message: if you criticize Obama, watch what you say, because we have his back.
      How nice.

      • Jack: That makes it all clear; there’s not much reason to debate it. You have a preconceived notion that the media has somehow colluded to “protect” the president. With that as your premise, it’s simple to understand why you react this way to the objective reporting of what happened. If you go in thinking there’s a bias for the president and against anyone who doesn’t like him, you’re gonna somehow think this is evidence. Most people looking at the show objectively would come to the conclusion that he said just what he meant, and then acknowledged what he meant. Everyone who was on the set seemed to understand him and I daresay most people who watched understood him. (And it’s not to say he meant that Obama wants to kill millions of people, it was clearly an exaggeration, one hardly worth the hubbub, but he made the comparison everyone has spoken of). But if you think the “media” is out to get Obama-haters going in, then objective reporting on this is going to seem like more evidence for you. Unfortunately, the premise just isn’t true. There’s no monolithic “media,” no secret deals in which “they” all agree to prop up one side and denigrate the other. It’s a handy myth.

      • Unfortunate end to this saga. To paraphrase Hank, him, his song and his rowdy friends are leaving MNF and ESPN, it was announced today. Hopefully it’s a reminder to everyone that inflammatory remarks typically have consequences, whether originally intended or not.

  11. Its clear to me that he was comparing Obama to Hitler. His words don’t exactly say that but the intensity of his delivery and body language make it clear what he is doing.

    With that said. Who cares? If it had been said about George Bush by someone, other than the Dixie Chicks, nothing would have been said about it. People on both sides of the aisle have been saying horrible things about the opposition since Adams and Jefferson. For ESPN to fire him is ridiculous. They hired him knowing full well he was a out of control opinionated redneck and now that he fulfills that reputation they fire him? Hell I would have kept him on and played it up.

  12. Lots of public figures compared Bush to Hitler, and a lot less ambiguously, too.

    If ESPN thought that Williams’ comments somehow harmed its image by his association with them, then that’s justification for firing him. If it was Oprah’s channel, I’d get that. But ESPN? My guess is that their audience would think exactly like you do on the issue.

  13. Basically, Williams is a redneck illiterate that happens to be the son of a great original C & W singer, songwriter (also illiterate, reckless drunk). Hank, stick to music, your one and only skill. You have no business discussing politics and probably have never voted (it takes some common sense). Didn’t any musician learn a lesson about mixing music and politics, ask the Dixie Chicks. Caused them to crash!

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