How the Country Music Awards tried to silence talk of gun control

Before this years ceremony, the CMA threatened to remove journalists asking about the Las Vegas shooting. Despite a reversal, it raises questions about the industrys close connections with the NRA

In the years since the Dixie Chicks were exiled to the Island Of Misfit Toys for denouncing George Bush, the country music industry has fostered a fear-driven culture, in which artists have shied away from making statements that might be perceived as controversial.

Indicative of this mindset is an utterly tone-deaf policy issued by the Country Music Association (CMA) roughly a week in advance of the 51st annual CMA Awards ceremony. Claiming that they wanted to focus on celebrating the year in country music, the CMA decreed that any journalists who broached topics of last months Las Vegas shooting, gun control, or any other politically unsavory subject when interviewing artists on the events red carpet would risk having their press credentials revoked and being removed from the grounds by security.

When the policy was announced, writers in the country music community expressed their outrage on social media, but the CMA remained silent for more than 24 hours. It only reversed its policy after a handful of artists including the female vocalist of the year nominee Maren Morris and the CMA Awards long-standing co-host, Brad Paisley, in addition to acts like Margo Price, Will Hoge, Gretchen Peters, and Ryan Adams, who typically are not offered a seat at the CMAs table denounced it. The apology statement was, predictably, half-hearted, insisting that the intent of the restriction on the press questions had been misinterpreted.

MAREN MORRIS (@MarenMorris)

Country music has always been about the truth. Out of respect for the Las Vegas victims, lets keep it that way.

November 3, 2017

By that point, the CMAs had lost control of the conversation and had no way to feign any type of moral high ground. Outside of CMTs Artists of the Year special, which focuses on only a small group of acts, the CMA Awards ceremony will be the first high-profile event for the country music community since the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history occurred during the Route 91 Harvest festival, a country music concert series in Las Vegas. The CMA Awards broadcast presented the most prominent opportunity for the country music industry, as represented by its most prestigious and most visible guild, to offer a forum for healing or, at the very least, some type of collective acknowledgment of the devastation wrought by the attack.

Instead, the CMA initially opted to issue a statement that journalists would be punished for bringing up the attack at all.

That decision raises the question of what the CMA was so worried about. In the aftermath of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, the number of artists who have made definitive statements has been relatively small. Morris recorded a studio version of her song Dear Hate, long a fan-favorite at her live shows, and donated the proceeds to charity. Eric Church gave a moving performance of a new song, Why Not Me, a thoughtful and well-written tribute to the victims of the shooting, during his gig at the Grand Ole Opry a week afterward. Jason Aldean, the artist who was on stage when Stephen Paddock opened fire on the festivals crowd, opened Saturday Night Lives 7 October episode with a cover of Tom Pettys I Wont Back Down, paying homage concurrently to both the late Petty and the shooting victims.

Beyond that, the acts who have made the most forceful and potentially controversial statements regarding country musics ties to Americas gun culture were never going to be featured prominently on the CMA broadcast in the first place. Price, Rosanne Cash, and Caleb Keeter, the guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band who shared a post about how the shooting had caused him to change his views on gun control, arent among the nominees or presenters for the show. While a few artists including the A-listers Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line have distanced themselves from the National Rifle Associations NRA Country promotional push, the 2017 CMA Award nominees Luke Combs and Jon Pardi both remain affiliated with NRA Country.

Abbi
Abbi Scott performs at the NRA annual meeting in 2015. Photograph: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Outside of NRA Country, which began in 2010, gun culture has been inextricable from country music from its inception and continues to figure prominently in many acts material. Miranda Lambert sang about getting the first buck of the season in her hit Famous In a Small Town, Chris Stapletons murder ballad If It Hadnt Been for Love has been covered by no less an artist than Adele, and Luke Bryan recently scored a No 1 single with Huntin, Fishin, and Lovin Every Day. Lambert, Stapleton, and Bryan are all in the running for awards again this year. The likelihood that a current top-tier country music star would give a soundbite on the topic of gun control at the CMA Awards is so infinitesimal that its curious that the CMA felt the need to issue its policy on acceptable questions at all.

What was missing from the CMA policy, however, was a direct statement about whether journalists could ask questions about the disgraced Nashville publicist Kirt Webster, who shuttered his powerful PR firm last week amid a staggering constellation of allegations of harassment, bullying, and sexual assault. Webster is a longtime member of the CMA, and his PR firm represented a huge talent roster that included current stars like Big & Rich, William Michael Morgan, and Justin Moore alongside genre legends including Dolly Parton and Charley Pride.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences moved quickly to expel Harvey Weinstein from its ranks following the litany of sexual assault claims that have been made public. To date, the CMA has said nothing about the allegations that have been levied against one of its most influential members, and that silence is troubling. That the CMA attempted to steer journalists away from controversial topics on the same day that the allegations against Webster surfaced seems like a concerted effort to control a narrative. Ultimately, the CMA has raised more questions than it ever could have hoped to avoid by making and then retracting its ill-conceived and poorly timed media policy.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/nov/07/country-music-awards-las-vegas-shooting-press-suppression

Author: Billy Roland

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