Tony Bennett’s 9/11 Comments

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


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A couple of weeks back I was listening to Howard Stern’s morning radio show and enjoying his conversation with an improbable guest – not a stripper or porn star, but the great octogenarian singer Tony Bennett.  They talked about Bennett’s colorful career, his friendships with people like Frank Sinatra (who called him the best singer of all), his secrets of longevity, his memories of childhood.  Then, in inimitable Stern fashion, the host began asking Bennett about things hardly anybody has ever thought to ask him about.  And the next thing you knew, a few million radio listeners were learning that the beloved crooner wasn’t sure who the bad guys were on 9/11.  “Who are the terrorists,” he asked in that famous smoky voice, “us or them?”  He described the attack on the Twin Towers as revenge – which he seemed to suggest was justifiable – for actions which the United States, in the past, had taken against “them.”  To be sure, Bennett was vague about who “they” were.

The remarks made headlines, and suddenly Tony Bennett, of all people, was embroiled in political controversy.  On Piers Morgan Live on CNN, he was given an opportunity to walk back his remarks.  He didn’t really do that, though.  Asked by Morgan whether it was right for the Allies to fight Hitler, he said the question was a difficult one.  Instead of fighting one another, he said, “we should have a society of highly educated individuals who can think realistically about how to do things….We should realize what a gift it is to be alive.”  Aware that his patriotism had been called into question, he insisted repeatedly on his love for America, which, he said, he loves above all other countries because “instead of one philosophy, it has many.”

I don’t think Tony Bennett is a bad guy.  I do think, as Stern producer Gary Dell’Abate suggested on the air after the media firestorm broke, that he’s just not a very bright guy.  On both the Stern and Morgan shows he seemed to have trouble expressing simple ideas, and it didn’t seem to be a matter of age.  After over eight decades on the planet, his mind would appear to be crowded with two things – the lyrics to a few hundred tunes from the great American songbook and a grab-bag of inane bromides and mindless truisms about Life.  He’s a textbook example of just how wrong it is to assume that because somebody is deservedly celebrated as an artist or entertainer, his political views are worth listening to.

The obvious conclusion is that it’s important to draw a line in the sand between the merit of an artist’s work and the value of his opinions.  But it’s far easier to do this in some cases than in others.  In the case of a Tony Bennett, whose art consists of singing lyrics to love songs written by people like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, there is little apparent connection between his art and his views; certainly his choice of material doesn’t seem remotely dictated by political motives.  Yet other cases are more challenging.  Some people (I am not one of them) greatly respected Norman Mailer as a novelist; yet his novels are driven by a philosophy of life that is breathtakingly jejune – a puerile “existentialism” which insisted upon the virtue of acting on even the darkest, stupidest, and most execrable of passions, as long as they were “manly” ones.  And this philosophy was not just confined to the page: the ideas that animate Mailer’s work also animated his life.  This is a man who (just to pick two examples at random) stabbed his wife and, because he liked a murderer’s writing, helped spring him from prison, enabling him to kill again (which he promptly did).

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  • jacob

    Admirable article and saying what many of us would like to….

    I often wonder about those "celebrities" and watching how stupid can people be, such
    as pointed out by RUSH LIMBAUGH when O.J SIMPSON killed his wife and her
    lover and the matter of him being a "hero" was brought about, when he said that a
    HERO is somebody that puts his duty as a decent human being above his own life
    but not somebody paid millions for running with or after a ball and defnitely, most of
    these so called "celebrities" of any kind, usually do not BRAY when they open their
    mouths just because the build of their throats doesn't allow them to…..

  • Diann

    I agree that he's probably not a bad guy – just badly informed as are most other media types. It's obvious that the Left's marketing machine is much stronger than that of the Right. It doesn't take much research to learn the truth… that the West is more concerned about convicting itself than those who are screaming out for our destruction.

  • tagalog

    As a political commentator, Tony Bennett is a fine singer.

    I can see, you bet, where it would be a hard call to decide whether or not to fight Hitler. Yep, tough one. I wonder if Tony would find the question easier to answer if he were Polish or Belgian or French.

  • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

    Tell me how a US expatriate who moved to Amsterdam to shove things up his butt, whose major contributions to writing include complaining about Muslims gets to rip the careers of Renaissance men like Tony Bennett and Norman Mailer?

    • Larry

      You make the common mistake of equating surface ability and facility with a particular art form with actually having more than two neurones to rub together.

      • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

        You confuse potato chips with college degrees.

        • Western Canadian

          Coming from someone with the reading comprehension of an 8 year old, that is really funny. Pity it was not meant to be.

    • Chris Nichols

      Tell my why he can't? Does one need to submit a resume before they can enjoy 1st amendment protections? Of course in the minds of a fascist like you, who apologizes for fascist apologists, like Tony Bennett, and misogynists like Norman Mailer, they probably do. Since you lack some basic reading comprehension skills, he didn't rip on their careers, or their talents, in fact he complimented them. He merely pointed out that Bennett is a dopey moron who apologizes for monsters, while Mailer, is one.

      • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

        Of course he’s free to run his jib, but that just makes it a bar room rant. Tony Bennett has a 70 album discography, all of it excellent. Norman Mailer has at least a 30 book bibliography, all of it sagacious and excellent. Bruce Bawer is a pisseur or articles, most of them flaccid and weak. You are a ding dong who appends isms to great American Renaissance men in order to pigeonhole them. Neither of you Stanleys get an ounce of credibility.

        • Chris Nichols

          What did I just write whack job, nothing was said about their talent, just their judgement. Mailer is actually just a hack who stabbed his wife and Bennett is a guy who signs other people's songs. So, in your little backward fantasy world, men who engage in the stupid behavior that I and the author mentioned get a pass because in your fevered brain they write good prose and have good pipes. I apply isms because they apply.

          • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

            Yeah they get a pass, because they are entitled to their opinions which just happen to be correct. But Bawer raking them over is the same as Michael Moore trying to make himself look like he is taking down Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine. It's the same thing. It's some tubby wanker trying to rip on his superiors to boost his skewed gotcha journalism. And you're laughable with your feminazi rant about Mailer.

  • Sowell Disciple

    "I'm just an entertainer, m'am." – Elvis Presley's response to a reporter's query about his views on the Vietnam War.

    • ziontruth

      Great quote! For that alone he deserves to be resurrected (even though some people say he never died).

    • Oleg

      That reminds me of Brad Pitt's response to a reporter's question regarding the Chinese occupation of Tibet after Pitt appeared in the movie, "Seven Years in Tibet".
      It was something to the effect of, "I'm just an actor who appears in a movie it doesn't mean I'm an expert on the subject", I'm paraphrasing that. This was compared to Richard Gere who automatically declared himself a champion of Tibet indepence and converted to Buddhism after appearing in a similar sort of movie around the same time.

  • Larry

    it's amazing how completely stupid and brainless the people in the entertainment business are. There main talent is in the ability to become multi-millionares while laughing at their audiences that pay $10.00 to see a movie. They should keep their dumb political remarks to themselves. I recently read were a kid on a TV sit-come earns $300,000. per episode, that's $1,500,000. per week or $75,000,000. per year. Now tell me there is not something very wrong in American society.

  • mrbean

    There is a line from "The Two Towers" that excuses the babblings of old senile guys like Tony BennetT…. "His memories fade because he has seen too many winters."

  • Cristiane

    Another possible angle here is simply peer pressure or fear of the entertainment industry’s fascism toward those who do not hold to their worldview, ignorance breeding and encouraging ignorance. The media, including entertainment media, wields enormous power to make or break you especially if you are trying to make it in an industry they control. These may not really be Mr. Bennett’s honest views,
    but perhaps a gross misinterpretation about what it is he thinks most of us want to hear, and this is probably because he is bombarded with these same messages in the mass media and popular culture.

  • Amused

    The only excuse Bennet has for the remarks on 9/11 and the decision to fight the Nazis is ….subtle advancing dimentia ….otherwise his records go in the garbage can . If you're gonna say something publicly , given the exceptional platform of celebrity , then you are indeed responsible for your words [ unless of course as I stated , the mind is no longer sound ] If you folks can take someone like Sean Penn seriously for his statements , then it would be pure hypocrisy , to make exception for Bennet .
    BTW Cristiane ,Bennet is well established , and need not defer to ANYONE for ANY reason . If words have any meaning , then thge ones he spoke are exactly what was heard , and are exactly what he meant …enough of these excuses .

  • xlent

    What do you mean Bennet "is not a bad guy"?? He is either an idiot or he is a, not so closet, socialist. Neither one of those make him a good guy but then I have never "worshiped" bennet as some seem to.

  • Ghostwriter

    I think Tony Bennett was foolish and he was called on it. He may be a good singer but his comments were stupid. Hopefully,he learned his lesson and moved on.

  • tanstaafl

    Never forgive, never forget. Seems easy enough to say.

  • maturin20

    Again, it takes a lot of work to turn a non-event into an article.

  • Oleg

    I think I can forgive Tony Bennett for his comments, it does appear that he was more or less sandbagged with the question, it's not like he's gone out on a picket line championing the ground zero mosque or wining and dining with the Castro brothers. But then again he could have simply said that it was something he felt unqualified to talk about.

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