I happened to catch the live interview of Hank Williams, Jr. on Fox News Monday morning, and I found it hard to believe the incident would lead to the famed singer getting pulled from his Monday Night Football ushering duties. Hank singing the Monday Night Football anthem is a real "family tradition" for the NFL's most unique spotlight game of each week.

Pulling Williams was a drastic measure. The move had the aura of sewing a scarlet letter on his cowboy hat. The media frenzy quickly gave way to far too many reporters who didn't see the interview live misinterpreting and misrepresenting what Williams actually said. Fox News, long suspected to be a bastion for Republican-leaning news anchors and analysts, got an extremist Republican for the morning crowd Monday when Williams came on to plug some of his work and some of his father's musical collections.

Williams, taken off the beaten path into serious political questions from the start of the interview, made an analogy that went way over the heads of the hosts. Apparently the Fox & Friends morning crew forgot they were interviewing a free-thinking and free-speaking musician. Their first question asked his opinion of the field of Republicans currently running for the presidency. The singer seemed uninterested and unprepared for that 100 mile per hour curveball.

Soon Williams led the interview down a dangerous path, comparing a golf outing between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner earlier this year to a meeting between "Hitler and Netanyahu." Before any real journalist could blink, Hank lost his singing slot for later that night, countless stories claimed he was equating Hitler to Obama, and Fox News had spawned a monster spouting right wing views.

The slippery slope of conversation in the remainder of the interview led to some uncomfortable moments as Williams struggled to spit out the best words to describe his animosity toward the Obama administration and his love of the Republican way. When he stepped on some toes, the reporters seemed affronted and acted as if they were dealing with a child who wasn't thinking clearly. He snapped at the crew to kick them back on track to the music aspect of his interview.

"I'm not gonna sugarcoat it," he explained at one point. He asked them snidely what they wanted, what they expected, and he specifically let them know he was "tellin' you like it is." They changed the subject.

These Fox News regulars are guilty of a mortal sin in news reporting: they let themselves become part of the story. We have to look at how this happened and take a step back from the fast paced 24-hour news cycle for a second, though. These reporters made the interview uncomfortable by asking Williams for his opinion and then trying to treat him like he's on the podium at a debate rather than trying to plug albums in a fluff piece for PR purposes. They should have stuck to Monday Night Football talk and put the music first.

You want to put the subject at ease in that kind of interview. If Fox wanted to throw in the political leanings of Williams, they should have asked those questions last, following the same order as they did to introduce the bit. Stephen King advises young writers to "write about what you know" in his non-fiction books on being a successful author. Great reporters know that the best conversation comes from asking questions about what the interviewee is known for, what he or she loves most in life and does best.

I don't think Hank Williams, Jr. ever captained a debate team. He's an icon of country music. Gretchen, Steve, and Brian should have started off the segment asking him about what it's like to make music. Instead, they engaged in a political grilling of Williams that ended up stirring the cauldron of controversy into a fabricated frenzy. Williams was by no means saying Obama is at all like Hitler. The context of the interview is clear. He meant that these two political arch rivals (Boehner and Obama) meeting in such a publicity stunt fashion was just as preposterous of an idea as Hitler meeting with Netanyahu. It was an extreme analogy, but it was not what the reporters turned it into. When confronted with the staunch Republican Williams stance, they quickly soured to the political questions and changed gears.

Finally the Foxters figured out what Williams wanted to plug and picked his brain a bit about his history with Monday Night Football.

The long running sports series is no stranger to oddity and breaks from tradition. Comedian Dennis Miller was even a color analyst on the show once when it aired on ABC. His terse language and verbose explanations of simple facts left him looking like he was always stretching to try to fit in. A lack of chemistry with his co-hosts led to his quick commentating demise. Now he coincidentally makes regular appearances on Fox News thanks to his friendship with Anchor Bill O'Reilly.

ESPN and Fox News acted in a coordinated fashion with this maneuver to strike a blow against free speech Monday. Williams did not engage in hate speech. He did not say anything worthy of any punishment at all. People are marching in the streets of New York these days to protest Wall Street. They're not shooting each other and/or authorities due to their differences, and they're doing it that way because we live in a free country. That's something the sports pundits and news channels should take a moment to remember before marring a historical tradition over a manufactured scandal.

Williams spoke fondly and warmly about his Monday Night Football connection in the same Fox interview. He heaped praise on the sports broadcasting institution and said he never forgot that first call that paved the way to an official contract to open the Monday night games and "7 Superbowls." The country crooner even evoked Boxing Promoter Don King, explaining that "Only in America" could a one year deal turn into such a lucrative and popular phenomenon.

Williams spent decades singing a colorful and catchy song that people hear and instantly think of the NFL and ESPN now. He's part of their total package, a permanent piece of their history and heritage. He's an artist, an arranger of words and melodies to create magical and memorable tunes. He's not an authority on world peace.

Yet, they snub this man so quickly for simply speaking his mind when asked personal questions about his political outlook on life?

If so many people in our military didn't fight to keep us free (many of them who are likely Hank Williams, Jr. and NFL football fans these days), there would be no Monday Night Football as we know it. There would be no Fox News. There would be no music industry. Hank Williams should not be railroaded for being more free than PC. If anyone deserves any blame for this situation it's the Fox News folks who funked up the interview from the starting bell and didn't stick to Hank's strengths to start them off smoothly.

Let's hope this slight on the part of ESPN and Monday Night Football isn't permanent. Hank's an entertainer at heart. Love or hate his opinion, he wasn't out there spouting it to the Monday Night Football crowd. He was doing the segment on Fox News, earlier in the morning than I suppose most musicians like to get up and start their day. It's about time we give Hank a fair shake for not pulling a Floyd Mayweather, Jr. on his interviewers. He's an ornery, cantankerous country music singer (with lots of "rowdy friends"), and frankly his political character doesn't concern me all that much. Reporters who can't even get through a softball piece safely are a much bigger concern of mine. These are the folks responsible for relaying the most grave and important news we hear each day, aren't they?


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