Fact Check: News outlets make false claim about Willie Nelson’s gig headlining for Beto O’Rourke

dcnf-2-1Emily Larsen, DCNF

News stories claimed that country singer Willie Nelson’s upcoming concert for Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke will be his first-ever performance on behalf of a political candidate.

Image: Willie Nelson, WikiMedia

“Willie Nelson is playing his first-ever political concert, for Beto O’Rourke. Some fans are abandoning him,” read a Washington Post headline Friday.

“The end-of-September event is the first time Nelson has ever performed directly on behalf of a political candidate,” read a Rolling Stone subheadline on a story published Wednesday.

Other stories citing Rolling Stone repeated the claim.

“And for the first time ever, the 85-year-old country music star will take the stage to perform on behalf of a political candidate,” read a Roll Call story Thursday.

“Willie Nelson will head a rally for Rep. Beto O’Rourke later this month — the country music icon’s first performance on behalf of a political candidate,” a Newsmax story said Thursday.

Verdict: False

Nelson has performed in support of campaigns for former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Fact Check:

Nelson will headline a concert rally Sept. 29 in Austin, Texas, for O’Rourke, a representative for Texas’s 16th congressional district who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Other news outlets referenced a press release from Nelson’s publicist that called the event “the first public concert Nelson has held for a political candidate.”

Nelson’s publicist clarified that while he has performed on behalf of other candidates in the past, this will be the first time he has held a concert for a candidate in a free, public setting.

“It is a free concert open to the public. Willie has performed for other candidates but at benefit concerts,” Nelson’s publicist told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “The public could buy a ticket but like any other concert it was only open to paid ticket holders.”

News reports reveal at least two Nelson performances in support of campaigns for his “old friend” Kucinich. Tickets sold out for a Kucinich congressional campaign concert fundraiser outside Cleveland in 2012. A Nelson benefit concert for Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign “drew a crowd of 4,000 and was expected to raise more than $80,000 for the Kucinich campaign,” according to The Nation.

Nelson also performed at a backyard concert fundraiser for Davis’ 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Her campaign drew scrutiny when it counted the concert as a $250,000 in-kind donation from Nelson, leading to accusations that the campaign had inflatedits campaign finance report.

The 85-year-old country singer has publicly supported other candidates in the past. Nelson appeared at a rally for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2006. He briefly endorsed former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee for president in the 2012 election, but he withdrew his endorsement in case Kucinich ran for president again.

“If it came down to either him or Gary I’m already committed to Dennis. They both have said they support legal pot,” Nelson said.

An ardent supporter of marijuana legalization, Nelson suggested starting a “Teapot Party,” a pro-marijuana response to the conservative Tea Party movement, after he was arrested for marijuana possession in 2010.  A “Willie Nelson’s Teapot Party” Facebook page has over 110,000 likes.

Roll Call issued a correction and Rolling Stone issued an editor’s note following inquiries from TheDCNF. They removed claims that the September concert for O’Rourke would be Nelson’s first-ever performance for a candidate and clarified that it will be the first time Nelson performs at a free, public concert in support of a candidate.

Newsmax did not respond to requests for comment. Following an inquiry from TheDCNF, it updated the story to remove the claim that Nelson’s concert would be his first performance on behalf of a candidate. Newsmax did not issue a correction or editor’s note.

The Washington Post did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

UPDATE: The Washington Post issued a correction after publlication of this fact check. “Correction. The original version of this story incorrectly said this is the first public concert Nelson has held for a political candidate. The story and the headline have been corrected,” it said.

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