Haggard Backs the Chicks

Merle attacks media in song, defends Dixies in essay

Merle Haggard will release Haggard Like Never Before, his first album in two years, on September 30th. The record -- the follow-up to 2001's Roots, Vol. 1, his tribute to the classic country of Hank Williams, Hank Thompson and Lefty Frizzell -- finds Haggard returning to the topical wartime song well that he tapped more than three decades ago.

Haggard's new cut "That's the News" takes the media to task for sensational domestic stories they chose to cover while U.S. forces were fighting in Iraq. The song echoes Haggard's previous war-era indictment, when he chided peaceniks for "runnin' down our country" in "Fightin' Side of Me" more than three decades ago.

"I find it strange that we're debating the trial of someone in Modesto [the Laci Petersen murder], as opposed to reporting necessary news when we have soldiers deployed all over the world," Haggard says. "The media pretty much wrote it for me. I'm not really bashing anybody -- I'm just sort of confused. Are we really being sucked up to for a rating? Or are we being given news that's important?"

Haggard was also irked by the nature of the war coverage that did manage to make the evening news, prompting him to pen the lines, "Politicians do all the talking/Soldiers pay the dues/Suddenly the war is over/That's the news."

"There's the footage where the President came on and said it was over, all but mopping up," he says. "But all of the sudden it wasn't over. They convinced me to the point that I wrote a song about it. I thought now this song looks stupid or it looks facetious, one or the other. I don't think it's stupid and it's not meant to be facetious. It's meant to create a question, is hypothetical news what we want to use these valuable stations for?"

Haggard penned the song six weeks ago and decided to add it to Haggard Like Never Before, which will be released on his new label, Hag Records. The country legend, 66, says the title is just a reflection of his current state. "'Haggard' certainly describes the way I feel," he says, before joking, "I'm getting on up there in years, I'm gonna be around forty-nine soon [laughs]."

Also rubbing Haggard the wrong way of late has been the polarized patriotism sparked by the Dixie Chicks' overseas comments about President Bush and the subsequent outrage. Haggard wrote an essay on his Web site, in which he admitted to being a Toby Keith fan, but also defended the Chicks. "They've cut such an honest groove with their career," he says. "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."