Rolling Stone Falsely Reports Morgan Wallen’s Post N-word Donations

On January 31st, when Morgan Wallen playfully referred to one of his friends by the N-word in a drunken exchange on a public street, and it was picked up on a neighbor’s Ring doorbell camera, he put himself and all of country music by proxy in the cross hairs of strong criticism amid the already contentious culture war. After the incident was exposed on February 2nd by TMZ, any and all repercussions Morgan Wallen faced were fair to characterize as warranted. In 2021, you must know how being caught using that word as a Caucasian will be received.

For Morgan Wallen, the condemnation was swift and severe, despite his music remaining popular as his fan base stepped up to fill the void of support left behind from radio, awards shows, booking agencies, and streaming services who all dropped Wallen. His fans have kept his recent release Dangerous: The Double Album perennially at the top of the country albums charts ever since then, and it’s likely to remain there into 2022.

But the ongoing obsession and overblowing of the now 9 1/2-month-old incident by the media in an attempt to indict all of country music for racism and completely expel Morgan Wallen out of popular culture not only has been woefully unsuccessful, it has been directly complicit in the support Morgan Wallen continues to receive from his fans.

On Monday, September 20th, Rolling Stone posted a breathless and impassioned article called “‘Exceptionally Misleading’: Morgan Wallen Pledged $500K to Black-Led Groups, But the Money Seems Largely M.I.A.,” claiming that Morgan Wallen had only delivered $165,000 of the $500,000 he had pledged to black charities in the aftermath of the N-word incident. The pledge came in an interview Wallen gave to Michael Strahan on July 23rd on Good Morning America. But just like much of the reporting coming from the once respected Rolling Stone outlet, the article was designed more to sow shock and outrage as opposed to educate and inform. And most important to note, it was also patently and verifiably false.

The Rolling Stone article authored by Jason Newman went out of its way to pat itself on the back for the depth of its research. It did give credit to Wallen for donating $165,000 to the Black Music Action Coalition. But Rolling Stone also claimed that’s where the Wallen donations ceased. How did they know this for sure? They claimed to reach out to “56 state, regional and national Black-led or Black-founded charities. None of them reported receiving any money from Wallen.” But this brag is also the folly of their reporting. Even Rolling Stone admits in the article that these 56 charities they chose to query came from a “compendium of Tennessee charities amassed by Give Blck, an organization that has compiled more than 700 Black-founded nonprofits nationwide.”

In other words, Rolling Stone only reached out to 8% of the known black charities in the United States, yet touted their research as thorough, and used it to levy a false accusation against Morgan Wallen. Furthermore, Rolling Stone admits that the donations could have come from Morgan Wallen through an intermediary, or could have been made anonymously. Rolling Stone says, “While it’s possible Wallen made donations anonymously, it would signal an abrupt about-face to his previous, conspicuous public mea culpas, financial declarations, and charitable endeavors.”

Instead of doing the actual work to truly verify whether the donations had been made by Morgan Wallen, and/or being patient enough to wait until the information could be fully revealed, Rolling Stone ran with the working assumption that the donations weren’t delivered at all, and then wrote their article around that assumption. As opposed to presenting the facts of the issue since they didn’t have any, Rolling Stone replaced them with lines and phrases of plausible deniability if their assumption about Morgan Wallen’s missing donations ultimately turned out to be false, which of course, it was.

To Rolling Stone‘s credit, they claim they did reach out to Morgan Wallen’s representatives and label to request information or an interview with Wallen about the matter, and were stonewalled. But that does not replace a media outlet’s obligation to verify information before they make a defamatory claim against someone. If an artist or label is unwilling to speak to you, then you try other means of verification. And if you can’t verify the information, you don’t publish the story. You wait until you can.

Once the Rolling Stone article was posted claiming Morgan Wallen had only donated $135,000, the CEO for Morgan Wallen’s record label Big Loud did contact Rolling Stone, and conveyed to the outlet that the label had indeed paid out $400,00 of the $500,000 promised by Morgan Wallen just two months previous, and the final $100,000 had been earmarked for further donations before the end of the year. This included a $100,000 donation to an organization called Rock Against Racism, as well as the $165,000 to the Black Music Action Coalition, and $135,000 donated through the Entertainment Industry Foundation to be distributed by individuals as they chose.

It’s important to note here that Morgan Wallen made the $500,000 pledge less than two months before Rolling Stone published its article. With the way the American tax law works, the need to vet charities before making such sizable donations, and other accounting factors, it may take some time to make these six-figure contributions. Either way, to say, “the money seems largely M.I.A.” in the very title of your article like Rolling Stone did seems “exceptionally misleading” itself.

Saving Country Music reached out to the Rock Against Racism organization to verify if Big Loud had indeed made a donation on Morgan Wallen’s behalf. “We can confirm that Rock Against Racism received a donation of $100,000 from Big Loud,” Grayson Kirtland of the organization told Saving Country Music. “We are currently in the process of relaunching the historic Rock Against Racism movement and Big Loud offered to make a donation to support our efforts.”

And of course, just as we have seen with other grossly misreported stories from Rolling Stone lately, the outlet used the need to publish corrections after it was revealed their reporting was incorrect as a way to re-promote the article through social media, goosing the traffic to their spurious and irresponsible reporting once again. And in this case, they even did it one worse, attempting to discredit the legitimacy of the Rock Against Racism organization in their correction to try and save face, saying the charity was comprised of “the managers of rock acts like Slipknot and Megadeth” and “the Rock Against Racism Instagram account features a recent post offering a ‘last chance to win a VIP trip to the metal tour of the year.'”

It appears Rolling Stone has not only forgotten its journalistic integrity, but its rock history. Rock Against Racism was founded in 1976 in the United Kingdom, and worked to bring together fans of popular music to renounce racism in the music industry, and across the “reggae, soul, rock’n’roll, jazz, funk and punk” genres. It was founded in part after Eric Clapton made anti-immigrant statements. Rock Against Racism organized events and tours, but ceased operations around 1982. The new Rock Against Racism 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is looking to revitalize the movement, and Morgan Wallen’s $100,000 donation is considered a big help to that effort by the organization.

Saving Country Music also reached out to both the Black Music Action Coalition and Entertainment Industry Foundation to attempt to independently verify those donations as well, but did not hear back from either organization before the publishing of this article. However, USA Today was able to obtain paperwork and verify that on Morgan Wallen’s behalf the Big Loud label distributed $135,000 to several smaller charities of the individuals’ choice, including the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, which provides children from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds a musical education, Teen Dream Center, a Nashville ministry for inner-city youth, and the Beatrice W. Welters Breast Health Outreach & Navigation Program.

That means that $400,000 of the $500,000 pledge has indeed been distributed, with the final $100,000 to be distributed in the coming months—much farther north than the $165,000 Rolling Stone claimed Morgan Wallen had donated.

But the bigger implications of this falsely-reported Rolling Stone article is the continued journalistic malfeasance at the once venerable music outlet, and how it is sowing distrust in media in the public, and hurting the causes the outlet purports to be championing. Nobody will be persuaded towards a disfavorable view of Morgan Wallen by the Rolling Stone article that doesn’t already dislike Morgan Wallen, while his fans who believe his punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and that he’s the target of an agenda-driven media looking to exploit the situation for clicks, will have further and warranted ammunition.

The Rolling Stone article isn’t keeping Morgan Wallen accountable, it is making Rolling Stone less accountable and trustworthy. Rolling Stone seems to believe that as long as they’re on the right side of an issue, they can be on the wrong side of the facts, and corrections and controversy are just ways to drive even more traffic to stories.

This appeared to be the same reasoning the outlet took recently when they falsely reported that Oklahoma hospitals were being so overrun with patients overdosing on Ivermectin, there were no beds for gunshot victims. Even after the article was verified to be completely false, they refused to take it down, instead adding corrections to the original reporting that had no material basis in truth, and re-promoting the article through social media. The article still remains live on Rolling Stone, as does the Morgan Wallen article.

Meanwhile, other outlets such as Vulture, NME, Complex, and Insider also falsely reported the Morgan Wallen story based on Rolling Stone‘s claims, similar to how other major news outlets picked up on the Oklahoma hospital story, further spreading the misinformation.

Unfortunately, since these sensationalized headlines and stories are such lucrative traffic vectors, there’s no disincentive for Rolling Stone to not continue this “publish first, verify later” strategy. An outlet once lauded for its left-leaning perspective has now become one of the most viper Capitalist organizations in all of American media, with many of the outlet’s “articles” now being comprised solely of product recommendations with payouts through bounty programs.

The Morgan Wallen incident remains a black eye on country music, and he should be held to account for his actions. But mischaracterizing or outright lying about the situation will only further fuel the backlash that has ensconced Morgan Wallen as the most popular artist in country music at the moment.

© 2023 Saving Country Music