- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Old Glory, cowboy boots, pickup trucks and Toby Keith: It is a match made in a star-spangled heaven.

The Ford Motor Co. announced yesterday that it had signed America's favorite "outlaw" country star to sing the praises of the F-150, among other models.

"He's a Ford truck man," said Ford division President Steve Lyons.

"I can't imagine myself driving anything else," the Oklahoma-born singer agreed.

But Mr. Keith has become more than a truck driver or even a spokesman for one of the world's most recognized automotive brands.

On July Fourth, Mr. Keith took on ABC's Peter Jennings over a set of patriotic song lyrics that rankled the Canadian-born news anchor and sent Mr. Keith himself barreling into the greater American consciousness.

In mid-May, ABC had invited the country star to open its Independence Day broadcast special with his hit, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." But without warning, the network withdrew the offer just two weeks before the show after Mr. Jennings heard the song and voiced his discontent.

Mr. Keith had written the tune, subtitled "The Angry American," for his deceased father, an Army veteran and a man, the lyrics told, "who flew a flag in his yard until the day that he died."

The song ends with a warning to terrorists: "You'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A; 'cause we'll put a boot in your [expletive], it's the American way.'"

While ABC representatives went on immediate damage control, Mr. Keith went to the press with his story, telling CNN and others, "Peter Jennings comes in and says the song has lyric content that does not belong on his television network."

USA Today labeled it "censorship," as did a cross-section of commentators, disc jockeys and media observers. Mr. Keith observed that he found it interesting that Mr. Jennings is "not from the U.S."

The song in question had hit the Top 10 on country music charts; Mr. Keith already had performed it on CBS, at the Pentagon, the U.S. Naval Academy and on a United Service Organization tour of Kosovo and Bosnia. He won the endorsement of U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan and the New York Police Department.

Fans got fierce. A petition circulated. Oklahoma-based country station KTST collected 300 assorted pairs of boots along with two prosthetic legs and sent them to ABC, prompting the network to call it an "expensive publicity stunt" and to assure the public it would donate the boots to the homeless.

Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, joined in, shipping off his boots with "nasty notes," according to NBC, which gleefully chronicled the controversy.

Needless to say, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" became the fastest-rising song of Mr. Keith's career, which already included 15 No. 1 country hits.

Ford, meanwhile, is pretending not to notice all this, only extolling the fact that Henry Ford himself had a penchant for country fiddle and that Mr. Keith, his father and grandfather all drove Ford trucks.

"He is a man our customers can connect with," noted Ford's Mr. Lyons.

"God, family and country. That's country music, that's always been country music," said Jon Anthony, music director for local country radio station WMZQ.

"This match makes me think that mainstream culture is getting the message too," he added.

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