Haggard Sings the Media Blues

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This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, August 7, 2003. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the Back of the Book segment tonight, country music legend Merle Haggard (search) has a new song called "That's the News," which is critical of the media. The single will be included on his brand-new album coming up in October, Haggard Like Never Before.

Merle Haggard joins us now from Sacramento, California.

All right. So what's your beef with the news here, Mr. Haggard?

MERLE HAGGARD, COUNTRY MUSIC ARTIST: Oh, let me say right off the bat I'm a singer/songwriter, and I've been singing the blues for years and also singing the news. It's just part of my way. I write about what the news reports, and the day I wrote this song…

O'REILLY: All right, but tell the audience how you were feeling about the news that day and why you were feeling that way.

HAGGARD: I felt somewhat slighted having to do with the importance of the war in Iraq (search). We'd been there, I think, seven or eight days or something like that, and they were toppling over that statue, and everybody was talking about it was over, and so I thought, well, it's over, and I think a lot of Americans thought it was over.

And then a few days went by, and we seen that it wasn't over, and then the song became more ridiculous before it was recorded. But it facetiously sent some message that -- I'm not sure I'm -- what I'm trying to say, but there's some confusion in my mind as to what's going on in this whole mess.

O'REILLY: All right. Now were you against the wear like the Dixie Chicks? Were you trying to write a protest song of some kind?

HAGGARD: I've always been for the troops. I've always been for America. I'm the guy that wrote, "Fight Inside of Me," "God Bless America for Doing What They Dare," you know.

But as to our importance with the news following the war -- I mean is -- is it more important to find out something else about the case in Eagle, Colorado, or do we go to the news at a certain time of day?

Used to. It seemed like there was a serious part of the day where we went to the news.

O'REILLY: Yes, but now you've got the FOX News Channel and the others that are on 24 hours a day. We've got to fill all kinds of time that Walter Cronkite never had. He had 22 minutes, we've got 24 hours...

HAGGARD: It's a different world.

O'REILLY: You also have a media now that's driven by sensationalism. So a Kobe Bryant case or a Laci Peterson case captures the imagination of millions of Americans. And, therefore, you have to do it, or, if you don't, people watch the other 24-hour news which does. You see, it's a competitive situation.

HAGGARD: Well, I understand, and I'm here helping you try to raise them ratings.

O'REILLY: Well, I hope you're successful, Mr. Haggard. We'll find out tomorrow.

HAGGARD: Oh, thank you.

O'REILLY: But you're not coming at it from a point of view that you're attacking a policy.

HAGGARD: Absolutely not.

O'REILLY: I'm reading the words. Now you want a more measured approach to the news, a less sensational approach? Is that what you're asking for?

HAGGARD: I'm not really asking for anything. I'm just giving you the news the way I see it that day. I'm giving you the news in blues tempo, and that's all it's intended to be.

I'm not against the war or for the war in that song. It has nothing to do with it.

There's another song on the album that's called, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," which is self-explanatory. I'm always for the troops, and I've always been for the Army and always been for the commander in chief.

O'REILLY: Do you believe that the American people are influenced by people like you? You know, obviously, all of the movie stars who are anti-war -- some of them got hurt pretty badly, by the way, and I feel sorry for some of them. Their careers got hurt.

Do you believe that American people when they listen to your new album and your song -- that it causes them to do anything or think differently? Do you make a difference in their lives?

HAGGARD: I just hope that it calls attention to the First Amendment, the Constitution. I had a brother that fought in the Marines and a cousin that fought into the Marines, and I tried to get into the Marines and couldn't get in there.

My family are warriors, and I did an editorial on my Web site -- merlehaggard.com -- you can go there, and you can see it -- more extensively how I feel about things. I said something about defending the Dixie Chicks, and everybody thought I agreed with them. I don't agree with them, but I have a feeling that they should be able to...

O'REILLY: Say what they want.

HAGGARD: ... in America.

O'REILLY: But if you make an irresponsible statement -- and, by the way, your song is certainly not that. I have the lyrics here. There's nothing wrong with your song at all.

But if you do make an irresponsible or offensive statement, you have a right to do that, but you've got to take the fallout, Mr. Haggard. I mean that's America, too.

HAGGARD: I totally agree. I just wanted people to think about -- you know, women have always been against war, and grandma's in charge now, and, you know, there is some merit to the way they fell, even though it may be unpopular.

O'REILLY: All right. Merle Haggard, thanks very much. Good luck with the album. We appreciate you coming on in. Thanks. Good to see you.

HAGGARD: Thank you.

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