Toby Keith Calls Out Reporter Over Retelling of Rolling Stone Story

Singer Remains Calm While Again Denying Report of Adversarial Encounter With Kris Kristofferson

LAS VEGAS — Toby Keith presumably came to the pressroom at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night (April 5) to talk about the movie, Beer for My Horses, which won the Tex Ritter award for country music-related films. However, sound bites soon turned to harsh words for a Nashville newspaper reporter who had written a story about a Rolling Stone feature that portrayed the singer-songwriter in a negative light.

The Rolling Story story, written by actor Ethan Hawke, did not cite Keith by name. However, it makes reference to “one of country music’s brightest stars” who “at that moment in time … had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.” It also claims that the unnamed individual asked Kris Kristofferson to not play any political music during a concert taping in New York City celebrating Willie Nelson‘s 70th birthday. According to the story, Kristofferson immediately excoriated the other in front of everyone.

In a story that appeared Friday (April 4) in The Tennessean newspaper, staff writer Peter Cooper made light of the fact that Hawke did not mention Keith’s name.

“Let’s see … big country star, hit song about military aggression, friends with Willie Nelson,” Cooper wrote. “I wish Hawke could have given us something to go on here.” Among his suggestions: “Does a bunch of truck commercials,” “Often refers to himself as ‘Big Dog Daddy’” and “Name rhymes with ‘Moby Teeth.’”

Backstage at the ACM Awards, it was clear that Keith instantly had it out for Cooper. As soon as Keith walked in the door of the pressroom, he paused in front of Cooper’s work station and gruffly asked, “Are you Peter?”

Cooper said yes, and after some unrelated questions from other reporters, he raised his hand and asked Keith for his side of the story. Keith responded by asking the reporter if he was nervous and then let loose a series of expletives throughout their discourse.

“It was erroneous, and I talked to Kris and Willie today, and you ran with something really shitty,” Keith said in front of a room full of reporters, as well as a young girl who was in the press room with a reporter. “You’re in default, and everybody here knows it. I don’t ever get to take my shot at you, but you always take your shot at me.

“I’m really having a tough time. I’m struggling even being in here with you in the room,” Keith added. “So you take that for what it’s worth.”

“Ethan Hawke reported a fictitious story about me, Kris and Willie in 2003,” the singer told Cooper. “You ran with it and took it to f**kin’ supersize French fries. And now you have to answer for it. I don’t. It’s really difficult for me to deal with you because I’ve known you for a long time, and you’ve never shit in your f**king nest like you did today. So do you want to ask another question?”

Cooper asked if Keith had figured out how Ethan Hawke came up with the story.

“I don’t know Ethan Hawke,” Keith replied, calmly but sternly. “Ethan Hawke wanted to do some kind of superficial Rolling Stone article, and he did everything he could to make his story the greatest story ever in Rolling Stone. And it’s a fictitious f**king lie, OK? He didn’t call me by name. … He called Norah Jones and Ray Charles and everybody else by name, Willie and Kris. Why didn’t he call me [by name]? Why didn’t he say, ‘Toby Keith walked through and said this shit,’ all right? You know why? You know why — you know as good as anybody. He didn’t want to f**king deal with the aftermath.

“So he thought he could dance around and say that it was just whoever it was. Well, guess what, it ain’t? It’s me. I’m the only guy who was invited to the show of shows that had a song out three years before about bombing the enemy into the f**king Stone Age, right? But you did the ‘Moby Teeth’ shit, am I right? And you thought it was funny, too, didn’t you? … Is that fun for you? Who did you think he was talking about?”

“You,” Cooper replied.

“Do you think Ethan Hawke knows me?”

“No.”

“Do you think Ethan Hawke knows even one of my songs?”

“I doubt it.”

“Do you think he could sing a chorus to one of my 25 No. 1′s or one of my 62 million spins that I’ve had as a writer? Doubt it, right? Yeah. So you took the story, and you ‘Moby Teethed’ it about five times, OK? And then you took it to another level and even closed out with a touch√© of ‘the only thing he didn’t say was “How do you like me now?”‘ Do you think Kris Kristofferson motherf**ked me?”

Keith’s publicist then recounted the timeline of the published articles. Cooper noted that Kristofferson had e-mailed to say that he didn’t recall the alleged confrontation, and Cooper said he was going to feature the e-mail in a story to be published in The Tennessean on Monday (April 6)..

“Who supersized it?” Keith demanded.

Cooper said he’d accept the responsibility for that.

“You take the blame for that one?”

“Sure,” Cooper answered.

“OK,” Keith replied. “Now you and Ethan Hawke are guilty, but what did Kris Kristofferson’s story say?”

Cooper then read the e-mail to Keith and the reporters, and Keith added that Willie Nelson would be in touch with Cooper, too, to say it didn’t happen. Cooper said he’d written as much in his blog.

“So why didn’t you call Kris or me or Willie and get a f**kin’ … ,” Keith said, before being led away from the stage.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.