Readers respond to Charles Taylor's essay on the Dixie Chicks' interview with Diane Sawyer.

Published May 5, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Chicks Against the Machine."]

Charles Taylor could not have been more on-the-money in his assessment of Diane Sawyer as a stand-in for every conservative who thinks that exercising the freedom to speak one's mind is a hanging offense. I would like to add one thing to his otherwise splendid analysis, however: Diane Sawyer spent a good part of the late '60s and early '70s in the employ of Richard Nixon. Even after he left office in disgrace, Sawyer continued her flacking and shilling. This just adds to the irony of that whole interview: Sitting there watching it, with my blood pressure rising, I could only think of the Fox channel, and their endless conservative prattle, followed by ads in which they label themselves as "fair and balanced." Moreover, when I voiced basically these same sentiments to the ABC Web site following the show, my e-mail was removed! I wrote ABC asking why, since in my own view, my words did not violate their rules, but I have received no answer.

-- Alice Lieberman

Charles Taylor's article could not have more concisely summed up what was one of the most important moments in the ongoing War of Bush Aggression. (Sorry if this offends some, but as William Safire noted, "vigorous vituperation is coming back").

I just wanted to point out what was a truly incredible moment that went unmentioned in the article:

When asked to imagine that the "President" were watching, what would she would like to say to him, Natalie, after mumbling "Let's hope not," settled on saying. "There's not enough time in your show."

Thank you Dixie Chicks for once more speaking your -- and our -- mind.

-- Josh Hehner

After reading Charles Taylor's article, I was still somewhat perplexed at how the Dixie Chicks' freedom of expression rights were trampled. Were they jailed? Exiled? Tortured? Physically intimidated in any way by the government or government officials?

I'm all for taking unpopular stances, but just because their former fans choose not to buy their music, I do not see how their "legal" or "constitutional" rights were in any way impinged, hence I find their "bravery" somewhat open to question.

-- Brian Asmus

In his precise vivisection of the furor around the Dixie Chicks, Charles Taylor wrote, "... I do not believe that a fascist takeover is imminent in America. That is an excuse to shy away from the work that needs to be done to defeat Bush and restore the civil liberties he has trashed."

I wish I had Mr. Taylor's optimism about the outcome, but I hugely appreciate his raising totalitarianism's specter. Very few writers outside of various fringes have been willing to write so plainly. It seems that being immoderate and passionate in sober-sided mainstream journalism is regarded as embarrassing, as having lost your head when all about you other heads are still coolly in place. It feels to many to be too damned alarmist to be riding through the streets shouting, "The Nazis are coming!"

But there comes a time when levelheaded citizens must indeed become alarmed. At this juncture in the American Experiment, alarm is nothing to be ashamed of.

Almost all commentary in liberal and centrist media has treated Bush's vile policies as merely an extreme example of Politics As Usual -- good ol' deal-trading, pork barrel, bully-pulpit ideological give-and-take. But this is Nothing Like Usual. Fundamental constitutional rights are being erased day by day, and the further division of rich and poor is blatantly promoted, almost to the point of no return.

We are not witnessing a particularly bad patch in U.S. civil affairs. We are witnessing something very close to a coup, and there are many reasons to believe that the Republican oligarchy could actually get away with it.

Carefully levelheaded commentary is very mature and sensible. But that is not what we need now. We need a lot of confrontations and accusations. We need stridency. We need impropriety and audacity. We need thousands of frightened and angry Paul Reveres, waking up the populace.

Despite Mr. Taylor's faith in the ballot box, if we are not frightened and strident, perhaps we do not fully appreciate the situation.

-- Katherine Collins

Great analysis of the Chicks' appearance on Diane Sawyer's show! I'm off now to buy my first country CD ever -- the Dixie Chicks' latest, whatever the hell it is.

-- Kim Green

Thank you, Salon, for continuing to publish the kind of material that actually engages rational thought, yet cannot find its way into mainstream media. I consider myself a liberal in the traditional definition of the word (I don't wear missile-shaped dildos to protest the war or equate Bush with Saddam), but I have found it difficult to find appealing voices outside of "The Daily Show" and your magazine. Mr. Taylor's insightful article about the Dixie Chicks -- along with Gary Kamiya's recent piece -- brings me comfort in knowing that there are people out there who have genuine empathy towards today's world events. Continue to have the boldness to bring the Fox News network's real enemy -- factual information -- to the forefront, so that us U.S. citizens can come to our own conclusions. And, as a side note, can there be any doubt that a viewpoint is thoroughly cogent once it has been condemned by Travis Tritt?

-- John Newberger

The lionization/martyrdom of the Dixie Chicks as champions of free speech ranks right up there with Larry Flynt and 2 Live Crew's brief stints as First Amendment poster children. Take one look at that cover of Entertainment Weekly -- is that all about raising the level of debate? Or is it just another means of generating controversy? I find it repulsive that a magazine would have the arrogance and pretension to use the crisis of civil liberty in America to profit by putting a photo of nude pop music stars in every grocery aisle in the country. If you want to put a naked girl on the cover of your rag, fine -- just don't take on some pose of moral righteousness in the name of free speech. It lends undeserved credibility to the Thought Police (aka the Bush administration).

What's most galling about all of this is the fact that the Dixie Chicks are simply entertainers. They shouldn't be chastised, nor should they be championed. Their music should be listened to and enjoyed by folks whose taste it appeals to.

The Dixie Chicks controversy came up in a recent conversation I had with a U.S. Army attack helicopter pilot stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. When asked how he, a soldier whose comrades are still in the line of fire, felt about the whole business, his response was: "I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with the president or American foreign policy. What bothers me is where and how this whole thing took place: in a foreign country where the popular opinion of the general public is anti-Bush and anti-American military."

When Natalie Maines said what she did, she knew the audience would respond enthusiastically. Whatever her opinions about the war, the act of speaking out when she did was not a stand for peace -- it was a pandering gesture, a means of distancing herself from her home state in order to earn the applause of an anti-Bush crowd. I'd find her so-called courage and conviction more convincing if she had spoken the same words in, oh, Texas for example -- an environment where those comments might have some weight rather than simply being a sort of call-and-response cheer to please the audience. And while it's frankly frightening to see these girls boycotted and threatened because one of them carelessly opened her mouth (we've seen this before -- remember what happened when Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus?), I don't think it's too much to ask of anyone, celebrity, politician, joe public, or otherwise, to be thoughtful and intelligent about what they say. If Natalie Maines is ashamed that the president is from Texas, how does she feel about the rest of the 50 states, from all of which at least one senator voted to authorize the president to declare war? Is she ashamed just of the president, or of her entire home state of Texas, where the indignation at her remarks is most palpable and most predictable?

It seems most likely that, as John Lennon did back in the '60s, Ms. Maines just said what she said without putting too much thought into it, and never imagined the subsequent backlash. To say that she and her group have been treated unfairly would be a gross understatement. But the foolishness and vindictiveness of those who have attacked the Dixie Chicks does not make them champions of free speech. It just helps the networks and magazines sell advertising.

-- Ed Tarkington

Charles Taylor nailed the whole Diane Sawyer interview with the Dixie Chicks. However, I think he gives her too much credit by suggesting that she may have been playing devil's advocate. Lest we forget, when she was the same age as the Dixie Chicks, she was chasing off to San Clemente as Tricky Dick's lone groupie. Anyway, I think the best two-hour lesson on the state of American journalism today can be found by running this interview back to back with Tom Brokaw's fawning performance with the commander in chief.

-- Dan Riley

Sawyer was a disgrace. She projected herself as a party line Republican/Bush/American mainstream media sycophant who, lest we forget, once worked for Richard Nixon. ABC obviously was afraid of offending its revenue stream -- oh, I'm sorry, make that "real Americans" -- so instead of an actual interview transpiring between the Chicks and Sawyer, what we got was a one-note conservative samba by Sawyer. Furrowed brow, hard mouth, sitting forward (to denote the "solemnness" of "what all this means"), Sawyer tried to reduce the three intellectually alive women into apologetic, groveling, nail-biting, whiny little girls. She wasn't their principal, as Taylor alludes. She was their tired-with-life guidance counselor, whose only concern was how good she would look at the next faculty meeting after whacking the "girls" on the ass with the dreaded paddle. Bravo to the Chicks for remaining steadfast and polite at this attempted public spanking.

As for the radio callers, I couldn't help but shake my head when hearing all the Southern-accented voices reverberating over the airwaves. A Southerner myself, I was appalled that the indignant "former" Dixie Chicks fans appeared as if this was the greatest issue affecting their 21st century working-class lives. No, my friends and relatives, the greatest issue before you right now is the loss of your 40-hour workweek. If you'd been paying more attention to what is going in Congress today as you have with an off-the-cuff remark by an entertainer, then it will not come as any surprise to you when next year Wal-Mart requires you to work over your allotted weekly hours without benefit of time and a half. That should free you up to listen to those Toby Keith CDs, you ignorant hicks.

-- S.M. Alford

What Salon and the Dixie Chicks don't get about Natalie Maines' statement:

People who support President Bush on Iraq
1. Mostly voted for President Bush.
2. Are grateful that, on 9/11, Bush became president instead of Gore.
3. Believe that President Bush is acting in the best interests of the U.S. -- they believe his assertions about the dangers letting Saddam remain in power, and about the benefits of establishing a free, democratic Iraq.
4. Think that pandering to a foreign audience is inappropriate -- like putting down your family when they're not around.

Maines, in insulting the president, told her fans
1. You're suckers for trusting Bush.
2. I understand what he's doing, and it's wrong -- if you don't get that, how smart are you?

Maines and the other Chicks can say what they want to, but they are foolish to think that they can insult their fans and not take a hit in their wallets. If their art and their politics are two different things, talking politics in the middle of a musical concert is a mistake. If they are one and the same, they shouldn't expect support from their political opponents.

-- Tom Calvert

By Salon Staff

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