On December 7 2021, Imgur user AustinKocher shared what appeared to be a screenshot of his own tweet, claiming that music icon Dolly Parton “turned down” a Medal of Freedom offered by former United States President Donald Trump — and not just once, but twice:
In the December 6 2021 tweet, Kocher stated:
First I was going to say what a crock it was that Rush Limbaugh has a Presidential Medal of Freedom but Dolly Parton doesn’t.
Then I Googled it and realized that Dolly turned down a Medal of Freedom from Trump.
Dolly Parton is better than I even imagined.
Although the tweet received minor engagement, the Imgur iteration was viewed in excess of 130,000 times in under 24 hours. Google Trends indicated that searches for “Dolly turned down Medal of Freedom” began spiking in interest after the image was shared.
Neither post (on Imgur or Twitter) included a citation for either claim — that Dolly Parton declined a Medal of Freedom on two occasions, or that late radio personality Rush Limbaugh had received the honor during the Trump administration.
What is a Medal of Freedom?
On a since-archived Obama-era page on whitehouse.gov, former U.S. President Barack Obama described the honor:
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation’s highest civilian honor—it’s a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”
— President Obama
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Was Rush Limbaugh Awarded a Medal of Freedom?
In early 2020, CNN.com’s “Rush Limbaugh awarded Medal of Freedom in surprise State of the Union move” reported:
President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom to conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh on [February 4 2020] in an unprecedented move during the State of the Union address.
First lady Melania Trump placed the medal on the visibly surprised Limbaugh, one day after the talk show host revealed he has advanced lung cancer.
“Here tonight is a special man, someone beloved by millions of Americans who just received a Stage 4 advanced cancer diagnosis. This is not good news, but what is good news is that he is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet,” the President said during his speech, thanking the radio host for his “decades of tireless devotion to our country.”
Trump, in announcing the award, highlighted Limbaugh’s charity work.
Did Dolly Parton Turn Down a Medal of Freedom Twice While Trump Was President?
According to Parton, yes.
In February 2021, the BBC’s “Dolly Parton ‘turned down’ Presidential Medal of Freedom twice” explained:
Dolly Parton has revealed she turned down the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the Trump administration twice.
The country singer said she did not accept the awards because her husband was ill and then she would not travel due to the pandemic.
Parton is unsure if she would accept one from President Joe Biden as it could be seen as a political move.
In that reporting, Parton tactfully cited broader events and personal obligations as the reason she declined, noting she was reluctant to accept one from President Joe Biden (lest the previous refusal look “political.”) The BBC cited Today.com, where more details from Parton about the honor were published.
On February 1 2021, the outlet provided a longer quote (and indication she was likely to decline an offer from the Biden administration):
The queen of country, 75, told TODAY in an interview that former President Donald Trump’s administration tried to give her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, twice but she had to turn them down.
“I couldn’t accept it because my husband was ill and then they asked me again about it and I wouldn’t travel because of the COVID,” she explained, adding that she has since heard from President Joe Biden about the award as well. “Now I feel like if I take it, I’ll be doing politics, so I’m not sure.”
“But I don’t work for those awards,” she continued. “It’d be nice but I’m not sure that I even deserve it. But it’s a nice compliment for people to think that I might deserve it.”
Although Parton was the source for the claim, the context at the time she disclosed it was important. Parton stated she was unable to receive the honor for specific reasons during Trump’s administration, adding that accepting the honor from Biden would feel “political” under the circumstances.
A popular Imgur post claimed that singer-songwriter Dolly Parton turned down a Medal of Freedom twice when the Trump administration offered; radio host Rush Limbaugh received the honor during the 2020 State of the Union Address. Parton disclosed that she had been offered the Medal of Freedom twice, declining both times for specific reasons unrelated to politics. Parton added that Biden had offered her the Medal of Freedom a third time, and she expressed reluctance to be “doing politics.”