Why Won’t ‘The New York Times’ Correct False Lil Nas X Reporting?

It’s now been over five weeks since Saving Country Music exposed numerous incidents of outright false reporting by multiple major news outlets when it came to the removal of Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” from the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, including from the supposed “newspaper of record” in America, The New York Times.

In an article written by Ben Sisario about “Old Town Road,” the paper cited a man named Shane Morris as a “former country music label executive,” and quoted him as saying the reason Billboard removed Lil Nas X from the country charts and cited sonic reasons instead of race was “because they didn’t know how to justify it any other way without sounding completely racist.” The problem was, Shane Morris was never a “country music label executive” like The New York Times claimed.

Instead, Shane Morris is very well-documented and aggressively-vile Twitter troll who’s been accused of making death threats towards young girls, has been cataloged verbally attacking the children of performers, along with making homophobic jokes, and jokes about AIDS, genocide, Nazis, 9/11, and the Holocaust, along with other troubling activity verified and cataloged online over many years. In May of 2013 after Shane Morris sent out an especially vile barrage of tweets threatening violence against fans of Fall Out Boy, and verbally abusing the children of lead singer Patrick Stump and bassist Pete Wentz, SPIN and others reported on the incident. The multitude of incidents of abuse by Shane Morris can be seen at the bottom of this article.

Shane Morris is an internet huckster who duped The New York Times and other major media outlets such as NPR and The Guardian into believing he was a Nashville insider after posting a viral Twitter thread criticizing Lil Nas X’s removal from the country charts. The thread was full of outright incorrect information, like claiming there hadn’t been a single black artist at the top of the country charts in 40 years, when Charley Pride alone had 29 #1’s during the period Shane Morris cited. It was the sensationalism and unbelievable nature of the misinformation in Shane Morris’s Tweets that fueled the thread going viral. It was shared by many journalists who eventually reported on the Lil Nas X story, often citing Shane Morris specifically and linking to his thread of false information.

Not even Shane Morris called himself a label executive. Instead he called himself simply a “former country music label person” (he worked at Sony’s Nashville office briefly as a web guy). But in the media’s zeal to assign racism to the entire country music genre via Billboard’s singular decision—and in the Twitter echo chamber of which most of American media is immersed in today—the media en masse made Shane Morris into a senior, executive-level member of the country music industry to underscore the perspective they wanted to portray to the public.

Saving Country Music has been resigned to the fact that this false reporting by The New York Times and others was never going to be corrected, despite reaching out to the outlets and Ben Sisario and others specifically to notify them of the wrong information. Clearly here over a month removed, they have no interest in correcting the record. But even more troubling, in a new article posted in The New York Times, the original writer Ben Sisario goes out of his way to praise himself for his thoroughness, while admitting Twitter is his primary window into the world.

“I constantly scan social media—Twitter, mostly—for news, and in breaking news situations I sometimes find sources to quote there,” Ben Sisario says. “But I am wary of letting social media itself tell the story. You need to actually talk to people, check facts, find contrary viewpoints, weed out nonsense.”

But when it came to the April 5th article on Lil Nas X, The New York Times and Ben Sisario did no such thing. Not only did they not check the facts of Shane Morris’s viral Twitter thread, they quoted him in part in the article, while also mischaracterizing Shane Morris’s place in the country music industry. The New York Times also most certainly did not find contrary viewpoints to present in the article, nor did they “weed out nonsense,” of which Shane Morris is the epitome of.

The premise of the new article in The New York Times is a bit strange in itself. It’s basically The New York Times interviewing one of its own writers about how they listen to music and find information for their articles, with no other writer attributed to the story. It’s basically Ben Sisario interviewing Ben Sisario. Instead of Ben Sisario and The New York Times spending time correcting an important error in their reporting on Lil Nas X, or perhaps digging into the past of a dangerous individual such as Shane Morris, they spent time promoting themselves, including how much they “…check facts, find contrary viewpoints, weed out nonsense.”

Outlets make mistakes in reporting all of the time. Even the most thorough of editing teams see errors slip through. But in this instance, the most powerful “newspaper of record” gave a platform and credence to an individual who has engaged in widespread and long-standing abusive behavior, and was never in a position to offer executive-level insight into the inner workings of country music. The mistake is alarming enough. Refusing to correct it while praising themselves for the rigorous nature of their objectivity and fact checking is another.