May 29th, 2012
03:05 PM ET
11 years ago

MSNBC host slammed for comment

(CNN) - After apologizing for questioning whether military casualties could be labeled heroes, the dust is still settling over an MSNBC host's comments that quickly set off a firestorm this Memorial Day weekend.

Chris Hayes, who hosts the Sunday program "UP with Chris Hayes," said in a long discussion on military service that he was "uncomfortable" with using the word "heroes" to describe those who die in combat.

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"I think it's interesting because it is I think very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words 'heroes'," he said Sunday.

He went on: "And why do I feel so (un)comfortable about the world 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word 'hero' because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war."

His comments followed an interview with Lt. Col. Steve Beck, a former U.S. Marines Casualty Officer whose job was to notify the families of those who died in combat.

Naming his biases, however, Hayes on Sunday conceded he was speaking as a "liberal caricature of someone who doesn't have anyone serving in these wars" and "hasn't been personally affected by the deaths in the wars."

With the remarks coming one day before Memorial Day, the conservative blogosphere quickly lit up with disapproval, spiking the comments as insensitive and evidence of what they described as a liberal agenda to discredit American troops.

Newsbuster's Mark Finkelstein wrote that Hayes was "the human embodiment" of the word "effete." Breitbart's Kurt Schlichter characterized Hayes's views as an "object lesson in what our progressive elites really think about our military. And it's not much."

High-profile, far-right commentators also voiced their opinions, including Ann Coulter, who mockingly tweeted, "Chris Hayes 'Uncomfortable' Calling Fallen Military 'Heroes' - Marines respond by protecting his right to menstruate."

Veterans of Foreign Wars also made headlines when it released a strong statement hitting his comments as "reprehensible" and "disgusting."

"His words reflect his obvious disregard for the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have paid the ultimate price while defending our nation. His insipid statement is particularly callous because it comes at a time when our entire nation pauses to reflect and honor the memory of our nation's fallen heroes," a statement from VFW national commander, Richard DeNoyer, said.

Following the outcry, Hayes issued a statement of apology Monday evening.

"In discussing the uses of the word 'hero' to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don't think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I've set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that," he wrote.

Hayes added that he was attempting on Sunday to delve into the disconnect between those who serve in the military versus civilians who enjoy the benefits of that service - and the apparent disconnect between the two groups on days like Memorial Day, when Americans traditionally take the day off and celebrate with activities like barbecues and cook-outs.

"But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry," he stated.

As he noted in his apology, television pundits and hosts have been known to wade into tricky territory when emphatically voicing their opinions in rapid-fire discussions.

Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and The Daily Beast and Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, said while Hayes made a big mistake on air, his apology was appropriate.

"If there's a more insensitive comment that a television pundit could make on Memorial Day weekend than that fallen soldiers aren't heroes, I can't think of it. These are people who died in service of their country, even if the military policy was wrong or misguided. Chris Hayes did the right thing by fully apologizing," Kurtz said.

Others, meanwhile, came to Hayes's defense on Tuesday, saying the pundit was not being critical of the troops.

"I'm not sure he was criticizing those young men and women. He was just saying that the word is overused," NBC's Matt Lauer said on the "Today" show in a panel discussion about the controversy.

Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, pointed to the controversy as an example of low-level dialogue about complicated topics on the national stage.

"Our public discourse is such that anyone can find him or herself viciously denounced by complete strangers based on a single sound-byte from which everyone extrapolates wildly. This controversy is worth highlighting because Hayes' words and the reaction to them helps explain why so few broadcasters forthrightly discuss complicated, controversial subjects. Hayes subsequently issued an apology, but it's his critics who've behaved badly," he wrote.

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Filed under: 2012 • MSNBC • Veterans
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. keeping it real

    Interesting that a quick search on MSNBC shows no coverage of this

    May 29, 2012 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
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