On This Date: Merle Haggard Defends The Dixie Chicks Against 2003 George W. Bush Backlash: “It Was Like A Verbal Witch Hunt”

Merle Haggard country music
Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images

Merle Haggard never shied away from sharing his political commentary with his music, or really any personal opinion, but that was evident with his anti-Iraq War song “That’s The News” in 2003.

The tune was critical of how the media covered the controversial war in Iraq, and was a definite tone shift from when Haggard released his pro-America song “The Fightin’ Side of Me” in support of troops in the Vietnam War in 1970.

Haggard tore into the media of the early 2000’s for prioritizing celebrity news while soldiers were dying in the fighting and warfare taking place in Iraq.

The country music legend sings in the chorus:

“Suddenly it’s over
the war is finally done
Soldiers in the desert sand still clinging to a gun
No one is the winner and everyone must lose
Suddenly the war’s over
That’s the news.”

And the most powerful portion of the song is most certainly the final four lines of “That’s the News,” where Haggard slows down to the end and emotionally sings:

“Politicians do all the talking
Soldiers pay the dues
Suddenly the war is over
That’s the news.”

The song also aligned with comments that Haggard made in regards to the backlash that the Dixie Chicks faced when they openly talked against the Iraq War at one of their concerts.

Natalie Maines, the lead vocalist for the band now just called “The Chicks,” made a negative remark about the then President of the United States George W. Bush.

While the Dixie Chicks were performing in London before the war in Iraq officially began, Maines said to the London crowd:

“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all.

We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

A tremendous amount of backlash hit Maines and her band after that, with Maines eventually apologizing for how she phrased the statement. She later apologized to President Bush as well.

The President, on the other hand, dismissed the criticism and even called the freedom to speak out “the great thing about America.”

The country music world was far less forgiving…

The Dixie Chicks, being from Texas, continued to feel the heat of consumer power after the fact, with sales of their albums plummeting and radio stations pulling their music from their rotations.

Haggard didn’t like that the group couldn’t speak their mind on the state of the country, and on this date in 2003, penned an essay on his website saying:

“I don’t even know the Dixie Chicks, but I find it an insult for all men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion.

It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching.”

He also added that he was a fan of Toby Keith as well (who was vocally opposed to the Dixie Chicks’ condemnation of George W. Bush at the time), however he was troubled by the opposition to free speech.

“Because they don’t like George Bush, should we take their records off? I really found that sort of scary.

Are we afraid of criticism? And if so, why? It seems to me, we’re guilty in this country of doing everything we’ve always opposed all my life. I’m almost afraid to say something.

It got to the point where my wife said, ‘Be careful what you say.’ Well, that’s really not the America I’m used to.”

Man, Merle… if only you were alive to see the state of things today…

God bless the great Merle Haggard.

“That’s The News”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock