May 29th, 2012
03:05 PM ET
9 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. tim

    it's MSNBC afterall

    May 29, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  2. Justin

    This man's comment is being misconstrued. This type of sentiment has been expressed before. Ernest Hemingway said:

    "I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them ... and had read them ... now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity .... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates." —A Farewell to Arms

    May 29, 2012 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  3. A mn

    Typical main stream (liberal) media, and people wonder why nobody watches MSNBC they dont know what news is, they just spread lies and the libs always believe it.

    May 29, 2012 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  4. Kris Craig

    Nice to see the right-wing fake outrage machine is still in good working order. This guy was asking a critical academic question about an assumption that we all just take for granted. I'm not sure I'd agree with him, but it was at least a valid argument worthy of debate.

    It sounds like he was trying to address what he sees as a potential "Wag the Dog" scenario in which government uses "soldier heroes" in propaganda designed to make the public more supportive of the politicians behind a particular war effort. Again, this isn't my view, but I do think he has a valid point that should be critically evaluated and used as an opening for discussion. Sometimes, we have to be willing to delve into uncomfortable areas and take a critical look at ourselves to make sure we're not getting drunk on our own Koolaid.

    That said, I think 8 years ago his point would have resonated with me. But now, I see no evidence that this sort of politicization of war casualties is still going on under the current administration.

    So let's all take a deep breath. I think this host was wrong, but academically his point does at least have merit. So let's put away our torches and pitchforks for now.

    Frankly, I think this is just another ridiculous distraction. The Republicans don't seem to want to talk about the economy now that it's improving, so they're reaching into the fake outrage instead.

    May 29, 2012 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  5. SoundFuture

    It's about what I'd expect from MSNBC.

    May 29, 2012 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  6. Caliifornia Conservative

    MSLSD, the racist station.

    May 29, 2012 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  7. nchunter

    I think the term Hero is something the press and media came up with. I served in peace and five tours in war, while I was a soldiers I am no hero. I served my country and I would do it again but more importantly, in peace or in war I was not there mom, apple pie, god or country I was there and will alway be there for my buddies.

    May 29, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  8. SoundFuture

    I think there is some legitimate outrage here. Most people have seen service in their family, and many service members come home in a box or in hospital bed. Every freedom we have, including freedom of speech, was bought and paid for by blood at some point on a battle field. Many service men and women have died for politics... which is the real problem. I lack respect for the military because I've never seen the US wage a righteous war. We haven't fought for existentialism or freedom in a long time, and I think it worms its way into the mind that this is how it always is. Hopefully we won't be fighting another war of either type for a long time. Here's to peace and enjoying our freedoms.

    May 29, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  9. sonny chapman

    Chris Hayes has guts to at least broach the subject. See how quick the Neo-Cons jump on this to again try to wrap themselves with the noble deeds of others. P.S.- IMO, anyone who gets yanked out of their comfy living room & shipped 7,000 mile away for a year not knowing how the home front will look like when they return & has to use a Port- A-Let in Iraq in 120 Deg. F. temp. IS sacrificing fro their country even if they don't see any combat.

    May 29, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  10. jon

    It is such a fine line that we use in praising those who serve without getting caught up in the nets of those
    who use that praise as propaganda for startng or continuing wars from time immermorial. He picked the
    wrong time to say it but if it cannot be said only more will be slaughtered in unjustified or unneeded wars.
    That is the much bigger offense.

    May 29, 2012 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  11. chelle

    And once again people are outraged without listening. He SAID that he thinks of them as heroes, but at the same time finds the word uncomfortable as it is basically being used as a political football. Not the first time anyone has expressed this thought (Hemingway for one.)

    Are soldiers heroes? Of course. Does the word get tossed around to score political points? You bet.

    May 29, 2012 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  12. Darryl

    I think anyone who defends this country and the people in it are in fact heros.I also think that the word hero is miss used and not respected.There are different levels of heroism and should be applied at different levels of defence.Thats why we have different metals for their Heriosm in the U.S Defense.I don't think the guy was being a jerk, but people are going to attack him and make more of it than it is.Jesus, anymore you can't hardly speak with-out the world comming down your neck about anything, even the stupid stuff.....give it a rest !

    May 29, 2012 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  13. walter wood

    At least he's no " chicken haw"' like most consevatives.......

    May 29, 2012 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  14. namseer

    Hayes tried to make a point about something important in an inarticulate and stupid fashion. He had a valid point to discuss, however. Hayes is a good guy who made a mistake. He apologized thoroughly. He is a fine husband and father. Let's move on to the next "outrageous" soundbite. I'm sure one will be uttered by someone by the end of the week.

    May 29, 2012 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  15. Russ in Md

    SoundFuture: I lack respect for the military because I've never seen the US wage a righteous war.
    Ever solder, sailor, and airman are heroes. Anyone that volunteers there life to protect you as you sleep, as you eat, as you enjoy the liberties of freedom are heroes. Your comments have no bearing on the military. If you hate a political decision, hate the politician, not the military that follows orders. I would like to tell you what I realy think of you but CNN would never allow what I am thinking on this board.

    May 29, 2012 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  16. The REAL Truth...

    "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."
    Gotta love the right wing outrage machine... did they even READ his Chris' comments ??? He's not complaining about the military being heroes for their country, but that the word is being misused in general terms to support the political selling of more wars – along with other words!

    ANYONE who volunteers for the military in today's world is a hero in my book. Perhaps the Mittens family should try it. Might build some missing character.

    May 29, 2012 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  17. Hairbear

    Anymore everybody is a hero,we as Americans just have to label things like basketball players and movie stars as our Hero! So cut the guy some slack! He really didn't say anything wrong.

    May 29, 2012 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  18. Dgood

    Are teachers heroes? Are police & firemen heroes? Is the poor slob just trying to make it one. Who is charge of telling you who to worship. The military has some great jobs and decent pay.

    May 29, 2012 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  19. Dagnytag

    MSNBC = Leftist's who hate themselves and their country.

    May 29, 2012 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  20. The REAL Truth...

    Mittens wants to send our boys into Syria ! Why... we will not be welcomed by either side. We sure don't need any more dead heroes...
    Does Robmey even have a clue where Syria is – without being told?

    May 29, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Anyone who fights for our country is a hero.
    If all you libs want to challenge it just go in the service or shut up.
    You people are actually an embarrassment to humanity.

    May 29, 2012 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  22. ex-AF

    Chris is right. Why give a bronze star to somebody killed by an IED? Where is the valor or glory? He was killed in action. No combat, just some Taliban detonating a mine remotely. Combat is firing your weapon at the enemy. All the rest is the infinite boredom. We threw medals at people in Vietnam. Giving the DFC to Army troops for riding in a helicopter? Give me a break, they're cargo. They do nothing to get the aircraft from A to B for 25 missions. They do as much aviating as a bag of rice.

    May 29, 2012 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  23. jon

    And of course Coulter in trying to mock Hayes, demeaned women by saing marines protected his right to
    "" menstruate"" as if being a woman is an insult .

    May 29, 2012 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  24. sundrop

    I was drafted, did not seeking a defferment, but served in peace and war. Those that did not served use the flag and military personnels as a way to use flag and the word heroes to make themselves feel good. The draft dodgers who was able to get a defferment and never served are not held accountable but treated as heroes. cheney, rommney, grinchrich, among others who was able to going to war in vietnam. Heroes. flag, patriotism and a political wedge or vote. these items should not be used as such and it is shameful. I am retired and served the country well and is not a hero.

    May 29, 2012 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  25. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    come on you all know he simply "mis-spoke"...that seems to work well for folks in politics anyway.

    May 29, 2012 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
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