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CMU Beef Of The Week #244: Jack White v Student Journalism

By | Published on Friday 20 February 2015

Jack White loves guacamole and hates bananas, ha ha ha ha ha. Ha. Haaaaa. Those were the facts we learned last month when the University Of Oklahoma’s student newspaper The Oklahoma Daily published White’s entire contract for a live show that had recently occurred at the university.

Jack White

“‘We want it chunky’ and other gems from Jack White’s contract with OU”, guffawed the article’s headline. Running through the rider section of the contract, detailing food and drink requirements pre-show, the newspaper attempted to find humour in everything it found. “36 bottles of spring water”, they spluttered.

But actually there was some genuine humour to be found. A demand for guacamole might not seem that funny, but a demand for fresh guacamole that comes with a recipe included is quite amusing. As is the note: “This is a NO BANANA TOUR”.

The article seemed no more than an attempt to entertain readers of the newspaper and its website, and one they might have expected to not be widely seen outside the university’s campus. Though if you start publishing the riders of major musicians online these days, any assumption that the internet might not notice is a bit foolish.

As attention spread, the newspaper published a second article, more serious in tone, detailing the financial agreements in the contract. The implied but never stated thrust of that story seems to be that a performer fee of $80,000 plus costs of almost $50,000 is more than the university’s Campus Activities Council should be spending. This despite the fact that some quick maths done using the figures the article lays out show that the sold out gig seemed to have netted the educational establishment a tidy profit.

The day after this second article, White’s management published a statement on his website, accusing the OU Daily of being “unprofessional and very unwelcoming”, adding: “Contrary to what some believe, Jack doesn’t write the rider nor make demands about his favourite snacks that must be in his dressing room. We’re not even sure he likes guacamole but we do know that the folks who work hard to put on the show do enjoy it”.

I know, right? It seems like Jack White’s management should know his opinion on guacamole. Particularly in light of all that’s happened.

Following this statement, the OU Daily published a new article “setting the record straight”, in which it said that the contract had been obtained via a freedom of information request, and published because “students need to know how their money is being spent – even if it’s being spent on homemade guacamole and aged salami with a sharp knife”.

Of course, the original ‘OMG look how funny this is’ article makes the subsequent ‘serious journalism’ justification harder to accept, even with the more straight-faced publication of financial details three days later. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at rockstars (hell, where would we be without that?), but then trying to take the moral high-ground when they don’t see the funny side is harder than it looks.

Speaking of not seeing the funny side, White’s booking agency William Morris Endeavor certainly seemed not to. The next article the OU Daily got out of this palaver claimed that the university had now been blacklisted by the company. In fact, the matter was being taken so seriously that that order apparently came from WME’s Global Head Of Music, Marc Geiger.

In a later article (further ‘setting the record straight’), quotes from Geiger were published in full, stating: “Please communicate to the OU Daily and administration that their desire for free speech cost the students of OU any further shows from this agency until this policy is modified to not disseminate private information. We will not do business with OU until this policy is modified. That’s my free speech and free choice. They cost themselves a business relationship”.

Meanwhile, a letter to the newspaper from the university’s Campus Activities Committee’s overall Chair Layne Ferguson and Concert Series Chair Emilye Lewin said that this whole episode had serious implications for all future entertainment for students at the college.

“The music industry is small and word gets out quick”, they wrote. “This puts every organisation at OU trying to bring a speaker, artist, or comedian in jeopardy. Because of The Daily’s choice to publish and mock White’s contract, OU is gaining attention in the talent industry as a place to stay away from”.

So that all escalated quite quickly, didn’t it? Is there any way back from this situation? Who knows? Probably, yeah. It’ll probably be fine. But, you know what? I’d quite like to hear from Jack White.

Luckily, to round this off nicely, White did eventually publish his own statement at the weekend, as the story was seemingly refusing to die. His addressing of it, he hoped, would “explain this nonsensical scenario [so that] we can move on with our lives (or what have you)”.

“First off, this is none of your business, but I have no specific demands in my dressing room. I know I could ask for lots of things but I actually don’t ask for ANYTHING. I take with me what I need, and that ain’t much. Anything on the rider is for the band and the crew. This ‘guacamole recipe’ is my hilarious tour manager’s inside joke with the local promoters. It’s his recipe, not mine. It’s just something to break up the boredom, seeing who can make it best”.

Oh good, finally it seems we might get an answer to the age old question, ‘Does Jack White like guacamole?’ “I wouldn’t know because I’ve never had it”, he wrote, dashing any hopes of resolution in the biggest issue raised by this whole story.

Well, what about the bananas then? “Did it occur to anyone [that] someone on the tour might have an allergy to them? No? Hmmm”. That had not occurred to me. Though we should note that he doesn’t actually confirm that this is the case. It might still be that Jack White has a massive banana phobia. Please feel free to use that as a headline, if you want.

He went on to say that he was totally in favour of the freedom of the press, and for the use of public finances to be scrutinised, but was still not happy about having his entire contract made available in print and online.

“Do you know why we don’t do that or want that?” He asked. “A hundred articles about bananas, free speech, and guacamole is why; it’s because people don’t understand what a rider is or what the terms of a contract are. They’re out of their element, and you can’t blame them for it. And people who write about that know this. People WANT a rider to be a list of demands that a diva insists occur lest he or she refuse to play a note of music”.

“Am I pissed at the students at Oklahoma University? Absolutely not”, he went on. “Am I disappointed in young journalists at their school paper? Absolutely. But I forgive them, they’re young and have learned their lesson about truth and ethics hopefully. All they have to do is Google this to know that it’s not worth it. Look for real problems instead next time”.

So, there you go. Everything smoothed over with a simple ‘Why don’t you arrest some real criminals?’ All’s well that ends well. Now let’s move on with our lives (or what have you).