CBS's Early Show Trumpets Past Spats Between Republican Candidates, Liberal Rockers

In the wake of liberal rock star Tom Petty telling GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to stop playing his music at campaign rallies, CBS reported past spats between liberal musicians and Republican candidates on Tuesday's Early Show.

As Politico's Martin Kady put it during the segment, the dismayed artist sending the Cease and Desist letter to a presidential candidate is almost always liberal, and the candidate is almost always Republican. The Early Show made sure to emphasize that during a segment where no Republican candidate provided his side of the story.

The segment included a Rolling Stone editor saying the Reagan campaign "missed the point" of a Bruce Springsteen song in 1984, and that the George W. Bush campaign in 2000 "preyed upon" Tom Petty's music.

Ironically, political correspondent Jan Crawford later characterized country music as Republican-friendly and "about country and flags and God." What is the connection CBS is hinting at? Are they saying that Republicans care more about patriotism and religion than Democrats?

CBS gave past examples of liberal rockers threatening legal action if Republican candidates didn't stop using their music at campaign rallies, including in 1984 when President Reagan "locked horns" with Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen, in a 2009  Early Show interview, lashed out at the Reagan campaign, saying they "co-opted" his song and "misinterpreted" it. Rolling Stone editor Christian Hoard called the whole spat "hilarious," and said the Reagan campaign "missed the point" on Springsteen's hit "Born In the USA" in using it to fire up campaign rallies.

"'Born In the USA' is a actually not as – it's actually not as triumphant a song as it might sound like. It's sort of a bittersweet tale of a Vietnam vet who's really kind of got disillusioned and struggled to find his way, and so, you know, I think Reagan kind of missed the point on that song," Hoard sounded.

CBS also sloppily characterized then-candidate George W. Bush by reporting that he "preyed upon" Tom Petty's music by using it at rallies in 2000.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on July 5 at 8:47 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

[8:47]

CHRIS WRAGGE: When you're running for president, you need to have campaign money and a solid political platform. But you also need a theme song, and that tripped up one of the Republican candidates as CBS News political correspondent Jan Crawford now tells us. Jan, welcome back, good to see you again this morning.

JAN CRAWFORD, CBS News political correspondent: Hey Chris, you know there is nothing like a good song to get people fired up at your rallies. But sometimes that can get the songwriter fired up too.

(Video Clip)

(Music)

CRAWFORD: Songwriters Milton Ager and Jack Yellen had to be happy when Franklin Roosevelt adopted their 1929 hit "Happy Days Are Here Again" for his '32 presidential campaign. 80 years later, the song is still the unofficial anthem of the Democratic Party. But that may be the last time that candidates and composers have made beautiful music together.

(Music)

CRAWFORD: Just last week, Tea Party favorite and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann pumped up the crowd with liberal rocker Tom Petty's "American Girl." Apparently, Bachmann doesn't quite fit Petty's vision of that girl. He quickly had his lawyers issue a "Cease and Desist" notice, demanding the Bachmann camp never trumpet his song again.

MARTIN KADY, congressional editor, Politico: It's almost always Republicans, and almost always a liberal-leaning artist who feels like their concept, their art, is being co-opted by someone they disagree with.

CRAWFORD: And it's a battle that stretches back to at least the '84 campaign. That's when President Reagan locked horns with Bruce Springsteen over the boss's big hit "Born In the USA." In 2009, almost 30 years later, the memory still rankled Springsteen, who talked to the Early Show about why.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, rock artist: The Reagan administration came in and co-opted, tried to co-opt the song, and misinterpreted it. And so I was learning very quickly that you had to be aggressive and assert control of your work as best as you could.

CHRISTIAN HOARD, senior editor, Rolling Stone: The Reagan thing was kind of hilarious. Because, you know, Born In the USA is a actually not as – it's actually not as triumphant a song as it might sound like. It's sort of a bittersweet tale of a Vietnam vet who's really kind of got disillusioned and struggled to find his way, and so, you know, I think Reagan kind of missed the point on that song.

CRAWFORD: The last time the candidate and campaign theme really clicked may have been in 1992, when Bill Clinton relentlessly pushed the Fleetwood Mac message "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." Petty's music was also preyed on during the 2000 campaign when George W. Bush blasted the Heartbreakers' "I Won't Back Down" at rallies. One letter to Bush's lawyers, and he did. In 2008, John McCain's camp made a curious musical choice for their candidate's theme, "Running on Empty" by Jackson Brown. Brown accepted an apology after the campaign was over, presumably on empty at that point.

(Music playing, "Grand Ole' Flag")

CRAWFORD: If there's a lesson in all this for candidates, perhaps it's that when it comes to their musical choices, the classics are the way to go.

(End Video Clip)

CRAWFORD: Democratic candidates haven't gotten the kind of pushback that Republicans have, since most people know that music industries support Democrats, and I guess they don't really mind when it's a Democrat who's blasting their songs. Republicans though, Chris, have had better luck with country music. And since, as you know, a lot of country music is about country and flags and God, it works out pretty well for them. Chris?

WRAGGE: Boy, noone's gone to Tom Petty for "Free Fallin'," though, huh?

CRAWFORD: Not yet. (Laughter)

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014