Holy smokes…I’ve been in maybe 50 pressrooms in my life and have never seen anything like this. Toby Keith came backstage and looked at Tennessean reporter Peter Cooper and growled “Are you Peter?” To his credit, Cooper admits he is and Keith just glares at him and goes back up on stage.
To recap: Last night, I’m talking to Toby Keith at a party and he launches into how he hopes Cooper is backstage tonight because he’s seriously pissed at what Cooper wrote about the country superstar. In a nutshell, Ethan Hawke wrote a long piece in Rolling Stone about Kris Kristofferson and how amazing he is. No dispute there. Hawke then recounts an incident at Willie Nelson’s birthday party/concert at Madison Square Garden in 2003 that details Kristofferson’s slap down of an unnamed country star, who tells Kristofferson not to play his “lefty” stuff. According to Hawke, Kristofferson, who was in the Army, really calls out the singer and slays him in front of folks like Ray Charles and Norah Jones.
The only clue Hawke gives is that the singer has a hit out about bombing America’s enemies at the time (actually, that song was a few years previous). Cooper praises the piece and says he’s not going to disclose the country singer either, but says it “rhymes with Moby Teeth.”
Cut back to the press room. We see Cooper; warn him that Keith is looking for him. He’s already written a piece about how it apparently didn’t happen that will run in Monday’s paper.
We all start asking Keith questions. Cooper, incredibly, raises his hand. Keith stares him down and lets him start, but quickly cuts him off and asks him if he’s nervous. Cooper’s voice is shaking a little. Cooper says he’s alright. For the next seven minutes, he reams Cooper-he never raises his voice, but he’s like a caged tiger and looks like he wants to leap off the stage and go for the jugular. He tells Cooper, “I’m not fucking okay” being in the same room with him. “You ran something s****y, you’re in default. I’m struggling being here with you in the room. Ethan Hawke reported a fictitious story about me, Kris and Willie. You ran it and took it to supersize French fries and now you have to answer [for] it.”
Cooper keeps his cool. He says he’s heard from Kristofferson and will be running a story saying it looks like the Hawke story never happened.
Keith isn’t appeased and says to Cooper, “You’ve never shit in your f***ing ass like you have right now. Do you want to ask me another question?”
At this point, perhaps to put Cooper out of his misery, Robin Leach tries to ask a question to defuse the issue. Keith ignores him. Leach has less significance at this moment than a gnat buzzing around the room. “It was a fictitious, f***ing lie,” Keith says of what Hawke wrote. “He didn’t call me by name…because he didn’t want to deal with the aftermath…you took the story and ‘Moby Teethed’ it.” Keith goes on to say that Cooper basically “f***ed” him. Cooper, who never loses his cool, very calmly brings up Kristofferson’s email and says he was asked to write about the Kristofferson Rolling Stone piece and did so. That’s about to be his fatal flaw. Keith pounces and says “Who supersized it?”
Cooper says, “I take responsibility for that.”
And Keith backs down for a split second. He then goes back in for the kill-and the real crux of the matter for every one of us journalists in the room.
Keith looks at Peter and says, “Why did you not call me, or Kris or Willie and get a f***ing…”
At that point his publicist pulls him off the stage. All the air is sucked out of the room.
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