On Tuesday, February 11th, writer Jessica Blankenship posted an article on the local-based news blog format known as Examiner.com called Is the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame Legit or a Sham? The article mixed spurious facts with opinion, and presented many gross inaccuracies about the status of the fledgling organization in an attempt to portray it as either taking advantage of artists and fans, or attempting to do so, and accused it of taking advantage of the name of slain country music artist Wayne Mills.
Examiner.com is a format that has very dubious distinctions amongst its internet peers. Examiner does not vet any of its writers, exercises no editorial control over its content, an pays its contributors based on a “pay for page impressions” or Black Box policy that is seen by reputable news outlets as a violation of journalistic standards and incentivizes the sensationalism of content. The site made Wikipedia’s “Spam Blacklist” distinction in 2010 for its spurious handling of news, and search engines such as Google and Yahoo discount examiner.com content in their listings because of the regular appearance of inaccuracies, as well as the site and some of its writers being involved in high-profile plagiarism cases.
The Outlaw Music Hall of Fame was first announced on August 15th of 2013. The organization announced its intent to purchase property in Lynchburg, TN for the Hall, and announced its inaugural inductee class on October 20th during a charity event in Altamont, TN.
Examiner.com writer Jessica Blankenship says she made an attempt to speak to the Hall of Fame head Gary “Sarge” Sargeant before publishing her piece, but no attempt to vet the facts she presents in the article beyond skimming through a few public websites was made. Here are some of the article’s gross inaccuracies:
Outlaw Hall of Fame’s Not-For-Profit Status
In the examiner.com article, the not-for-profit status of the Hall of Fame is called into question.
The Outlaw Music Hall of Fame, Outlaws and Icons, and the Outlaw Music Association have claimed to be a non-profit in interviews and their websites. According to the IRS website, neither the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame, Outlaws and Icons, or the Outlaw Music Association are listed as being recognized as non-profit to be tax exempt. The Tennessee State Government’s website has not recognized either as a non-profit or charitable organization. Guidestar.org website does not have any indication of any of the organizations as a non-profit. The Better Business Bureau of west Tennessee does not recognize any of the names as a business or non-profit charity.
It also calls out later,
the deceit of stating to be a non-profit when they are not.
This information is incorrect.
The Outlaw Music Hall of Fame has registered as a not-for-profit with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office. It was applied for in August of 2013, and a call to the Tennessee Secretary of Sate by Saving Country Music confirmed this. A separate arm of the organization called “Outlaws & Legends” whose purpose is to be a benefit organization applied for their not-for-profit status in May of 2013.
“The Secretary of State’s office is who we are registered with as a non-profit organization,” says Gary Sargeant. “Outlaws and Legends and Outlaw Music Hall of Fame are separate, and they are both registered in the State of Tennessee as non profit corporations, and a 501c3 has been applied for. When we receive that back from the IRS, then we’ll have those numbers to post up too. It takes 6 to 9 months to get a 501c3 approved. I filed that in July of 2013.”
Also, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame is not an open business. There’s no reason the organization would be registered with The Better Business Bureau or other such entities as an open, operating business, nor is any organization obligated to register with The Better Business Bureau.
Author Neil Hamilton Is Not a Member of the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame Board of Directors
The examiner.com article states:
Since the death of Wayne Mills, board of director member and writer, Neil Hamilton, posted a rather dark blog on Wayne Mills that pictured a stark contrast of his true character. The blog, which has since been taken down, was filled with conspiracy theories and lies. The credibility of his writings would soon be questioned by music fans as he was proven wrong of several items he posted. Most importantly, he reported that he had spoke to those that were with Mills, only to later say in a second post that he never spoke to those he named. Why would someone throw those under the bus, so to speak, that he considered to be a friend of, including Mills?
it also calls out later the,
lack of credibility of board members.
Once again, this is completely incorrect.
Saving Country Music has confirmed through both Neil Hamilton and Gary Sargeant that Neil Hamilton is not a member of the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame Board of Directors, and has not been a member since December when Hamilton made his controversial blog post about the death of Wayne Mills. In the aftermath of that post, Hamilton tenured his resignation, and the Hall of Fame accepted.
Furthermore, the blog post by Neil Hamilton is and was completely autonomous from the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame. The above examiner.com paragraph seems to imply that the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame had something to do with Hamilton’s blog post, as if he was acting on the Outlaw Hall of Fame’s behalf. A Board of Directors member is not an employee or representative of any organization. It is an advisory position, and Neil Hamilton’s, nor any board member’s actions should reflect on the organization, especially considering that the questionable activity is what stimulated him leaving the position.
Lack of Progress With The Outlaw Hall of Fame
The examiner.com article in numerous places calls out the Hall of Fame for lack of progress.
Even though it has been announced that the ceremonies would take place in April 2014, there has been no word of when or where it will take place…To date, no word has been made as to what the progress of the facility has been. There has been no information available as to when it will open and what particular items will be on display.
As Jessica Blankenship points out herself, the induction ceremony wasn’t even initially scheduled to take place for another 6 weeks to 2 1/2 months. However the organization is being criticized for a lack of progress on events whose dates haven’t passed. Saving Country Music spoke to Gary Sargeant about why there has been no updates on the opening of the Outlaw Hall of Fame, and it has to deal with a very specific matter with the building that was acquired to house the Hall.
Last September we signed a letter of intent for a lease / purchase for the building, and signed and delivered it to the real estate agent. The owners of the property have that property, and adjacent one, and a 3rd piece of property that are tied to a loan to a bank. When presented to the bank, the bank put a hold on the lease we were executing to take possession of the building on November 1st. The bank put a hold on it because they don’t want to lease it, they just want to sell the property because the owners are in arrears with their payments. And it’s been going back and forth ever since, and were working on a deal to try to figure out how to break that piece of property out from the other two. And it’s in the banks, and lawyers, and real estate agent’s hands. So we’re trying to purchase the building separately.
That’s the whole gist behind what’s happening with the building, and it has nothing to do with the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame doing anything wrong. It is a very desirable piece of property that we feel suits our needs best for the long-term viability of the Hall of Fame. But it’s tied up with two other pieces of property, and the legal trappings that go with breaking that out and satisfying all the parties concerned. We’re just trying to work out a deal where everybody’s satisfied so we can take possession of the building. Once we take possession of the building, then we have approximately 90 days worth of work to do to reconfigure the interior space to the way that we want it. As soon as these things that are out of our control are resolved, then we can formulate a schedule and make some announcements.
Inductees Not Acknowledging the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame
The examiner.com article states:
Furthermore, none of the inductees have even acknowledged the Hall of Fame on their websites or social media pages. The last post on Facebook from the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame was November 23, 2013 with news of the passing of Wayne Mills.
Once again, this is incorrect information.
Dallas Moore, Wayne Mills before his passing, and other individuals recognized by the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame acknowledged their distinction when it was announced. There were also some that didn’t, but this is not an obligation, nor is it somehow the responsibility of the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is a fledgling organization attempting to create legitimacy for itself just as any Hall of Fame seeks, and shouldn’t be responsible for the actions of others.
Also, the communication surrounding the Hall of Fame could likely be better, but no organization has an obligation to administrate a Facebook page, nor update it on a regular basis, especially if no updates are available. Not updating a Facebook page for a Hall of Fame that isn’t even open yet is not a sign of a “sham” or impropriety.
Opinions Mixed In With Facts
In the examiner.com article, Jessica Blankenship says,
President Gary Sargeant was featured on Fox News and even spoke at Wayne Mills funeral, promoting the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame any chance he got.
This is an opinion. Wayne Mills was a Guardian Award recipient from the inaugural Outlaw Music Hall of Fame class, and subsequently the Hall of Fame renamed the Guardian Award in Wayne Mills’ memory. It is not out-of-bounds to think the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame would be brought up in the context of Wayne’s death, especially since the two events transpired in a month of each other. “Any chance he got” is a stretch of the truth looking to sensationalize the story.
The examiner.com piece also says,
Hopefully the benefit will truly serve the purpose of raising funds for Mills family and not another marketing ploy to promote the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame.
…yet nowhere is it established that at any other point a benefit was used as a “marketing ploy” for The Hall. The accusation is made by Jessica Blankenship about the Altamont, TN event in October when the inductees were announced, but this opinion is not corroborated by any other information or facts. The Altamont, TN event was reported to have been poorly-attended and poorly-promoted. Part of this could have been the fault of Gary Sargeant being hospitalized after a motorcycle crash a week before the event. Nonethless, poor planning, poor attendance, or poor promotion doesn’t denote either a “ploy” or an attempt to take advantage of anyone.
The examiner.com article concludes with the sentence,
…and deceit of stating to be a non-profit when they are not, one cannot help but think if this is really more of a sham for music fans.
Aside from the incorrect information of the Outlaw Hall of Fame not being a non-profit, saying it is “a sham for music fans” would imply that it was a sham that is benefiting music fans. This type of inexpertness evident throughout the examiner.com article beyond the incorrect facts is what is so disturbing when it is being presented as legitimate news.
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There are many concerns about The Outlaw Music Hall of Fame, and its prospects of becoming a legitimate and functioning institution in the country music landscape. It could be under-manned, and needing more organization, beyond the specific issues of obtaining their brick and mortar location. But that doesn’t mean anything is a “sham” or is unscrupulous, or that anyone is being taken advantage of. The reason these Halls of Fame have difficulties getting off the ground sometimes is because of the lack of fan participation. Many organizations in their infant stages must stumble around a bit to get their feet under them, but many of them grow up to prosper and to be productive entities of the music community.
A few years ago, Saving Country Music reported on the bulldozing of the Musicians Hall of Fame, and the subsequent destruction of many artifacts because the entities supporting the Hall were not as powerful as the ones wanting to move it. These institutions are natural underdogs, and face an uphill battle at establishing themselves to begin with. To have someone publish a smear piece, especially one posted on a site meant to drive up traffic for monetary purposes, is both an affront to the independent music community, and on true, objective journalism.
The Outlaw Music Hall of Fame may not be longed for this world, but if it wasn’t meant to be, it should fail by its own weight, and not misinformation. Instead of lobbing grenades at it because certain individuals don’t like the term “Outlaw” or because there are certain issues with how it is currently being operated, offer your advice, criticism, and counsel. Offer to volunteer, or offer some other material assistance. If there does happen to be some corruption or impropriety—which there doesn’t appear to be here—let that come out when those charges can be corroborated from a legitimate, reliable source, and if possible, handle it “around the campfire” so to speak instead of through the outside press. And if the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame still is not meant to be, then it will be from the will of the people, and not a smear job from some salacious “journalist.”