The Jussie Smollett story should be used as a cautionary tale by anyone that practices journalism … but it won’t be.
On the evening of January 29th, Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told the Chicago Police Department that he was attacked by two men while he was walking home to his apartment. He alleged that the men shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him, adding the line “this is MAGA country,” poured an "unknown chemical substance" on him before putting a noose around his neck and exiting the scene of the alleged crime. Responding officers, according to a police report, found Smollett with the noose hanging around his neck.
Soon after the media pounced on the story.
There was a tone of absolute certainty. ABC News said “celebrities, lawmakers rally behind Jussie Smollett in wake of brutal attack,” “Jussie Smollett Performs at Troubadour Just Days After Chicago Attack: ‘I Had to Be Here Tonight,’ ” read a Los Angeles Times headline. “The racist, homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett is far-right America’s endgame,” tweeted GQ. "This is America in 2019," CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin lamented. [In fact, a whole video montage has soundbytes of mainstream media reactions to the story.]
This all resulted in celebrities prematurely condemning the attack; Ellen Page sobbed on Stephen Colbert. The cast of Big Bang Theory published a photo on Instagram which had a sign reading “we are with Jussie” Politicians chimed in as well. Cory Booker went on Twitter to say, “The vicious attack on Jussie Smollett was an attempted modern-day lynching.” Joe Biden: “What happened today to Jussie Smollett must never be tolerated in this country. We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts.” Kamala Harris: “This was an attempted modern day lynching. No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin.” And so on and so on.
The words “alleged” or “claimed” weren’t even uttered by these people. Because they needed the story to be true. After the Covington debacle, just a month old mind you, you would think there’d be a more cautious approach to this story, but no.
And so, what a horribly embarrassing predicament to have this end with Smollett, allegedly, having “staged” the attack with two accomplices. This week Chicago’s ABC7 News reported that “multiple sources,” presumably in the Chicago Police Department, confirmed it was indeed a hoax.
The two men police detained this past week, identified only as Nigerian brothers, were picked up at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and taken into custody. At least one of the men worked on Smollett’s show "Empire," according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. Soon after, the two men were released, with no charges filed against them.
On Friday night, at 10 p.m. ET in a Twitter message from Tom Ahern, deputy director of news affairs and communications for the police department released this statement:
“Due to new evidence as a result of today's interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the #Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” Ahern wrote. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this “new evidence” had to do with Smollett’s involvement.
Smollett justifiably lawyered up -- hiring Michael Cohen's former defense attorney, Michael Monico, because he is, most probably, now facing a maximum sentence of three years in jail for faking a crime.
What a way to completely undermine all hate crimes that actually do happen.
The Smollett drama is further proof that we have a journalism problem in this country. The media were quick on the trigger, even when there were plot holes to his story bigger than the death star.
The amplified nature of the media’s reaction, which caused this whole domino effect, is not surprising. We live in an age when both left and right are the most divided they’ve been since civil war era USA. But the more dangerous problem is that we’re willing to give the media mediator power. They are supposed to be the ones that lead the conversation. It’s because of them that celebs and politicians decided to accept Jussie Smollett’s account as truthful. I mean, why wouldn’t they? A gay, black man insinuated that he was brutally attacked by two guys who shouted pro-Trump rhetoric towards him. The story is almost too good to resist for the likes of CNN and MSNBC, whom have, by all accounts, ever since Trumps’ election, stooped down to the same propagandist levels we used to mock Fox News for. In fact, now Fox News doesn’t seem so bad, they actually look pretty normal, what with MSNBC all but becoming their leftist counterpart, using Fox News’ formula of agenda-driven news as a way to up ratings and succeeding at that. It’s the only way a news network that up their rating these days, either be pro-Trump or anti-Trump.
The last two years have seen some of the most accomplished and well-respected journalists completely throw out ethical journalism in favor partisanship. This won’t be the last occurrence of such a preposterously reported news event, mostly because fake news is just much more profitable than real news.