Was That Roxanne Shante Education Story in the Daily News Completely False?
Ug. Slate seems to have debunked the story the NYDN ran a few weeks ago about Roxanne Shante, which claimed that "a forgotten clause in her first record deal" had allowed her to stick Warner Brothers with the entire check for her Ph. D in psychology from Cornell. It was the ultimate artist revenge story, but--though there are a few caveats attached to the Slate piece--it appears to have been completely false. The bullet points:
- * According to Warner, neither it nor any of its subsidiary record labels ever had a contract with Shante, and it was not obligated to pay for her education. Indeed, there's no evidence that it ever did.
* Shante--real name Lolita Shante Gooden--doesn't have a Ph.D. from Cornell or anywhere else. Indeed, she admitted it in an interview with Slate. And Cornell has no record of Gooden (or "Shante") ever attending or receiving a degree.
* According to Marymount Manhattan College records, Shante enrolled there but dropped out less than four months later without ever earning a degree.
* New York state records indicate that no one named Lolita Gooden or Roxanne Shante is licensed to practice psychology or any related field.
The report is written by a former Warner Music attorney, Ben Sheffner, and Slate has also has appended what looks to be a bit of a disclaimer--"The views expressed here are his own"--they don't usually use. (Update. Sheffner wrote us to clarify: "The disclaimer was NOT an effort by Slate to distance itself from my piece. Rather, it was something *I* insisted upon, to make sure that the article was not attributed to my current employer, NBC. When I came to work at NBC, I told them that in any outside writing I do, I would make clear through such a disclaimer that this was my own work.") But the evidence in the piece--pulled from college records, a statement from Warner, and, most damningly, an interview with Shante herself--seems relatively strong. The Daily News has yet to comment, and Slate couldn't find the original piece's writer, Walter Dawkins. So this ain't quite over yet, although Shante did tell Slate the NYDN made a "mistake" in telling her story the way it did.
The Daily News also isn't the only media outlet that comes in for criticism in the piece. "The story was endlessly blogged and tweeted," writes Sheffner, and was
- heralded as an example of a heroic triumph by a girl from the projects over her evil record label. Credulous music-industry critics lapped it up; Techdirt, after stating flatly that Warner had "tr[ied] to cheat [Shante] out of her contract," reflected the online sentiment: "It's nice to see how Warner Music actually did some good in the world, even if it had to be dragged there kicking and screaming."
Will "credulous music-industry critics" be as quick to bite on Sheffner's story? It probably depends on what the Daily News ends up saying in response to Slate's request for comment. Before Dawkins replies, it seems premature to call this thing over. But if so, well--let's just call it a loss for everybody.