Jussie Smollett may no longer be facing 16 felony counts for allegedly filing false police reports, but that doesn't mean he's walking free in the court of public opinion.
Crisis management expert and President and CEO of 5WPR Ronn Torossian doesn't think it's possible for Jussie Smollett to make a comeback of any kind, even though the criminal charges against the "Empire" star were dismissed on Tuesday.
"The headline of Jussie Smollett's obituary has already been written," Torossian told Fox News on Thursday. "I think his career is over...I think, much like O.J. Simpson, he's still guilty in the court of public opinion ... I think that brands and networks don't want to be in business with people who are bringing them a lot of headaches."
As for what opportunities, if any, may await the 36-year-old actor following the scandal, Torossian quipped, "Maybe he'll appear on a third-rate reality show."
Torossian believes that while networks may be loath to cast Smollett in the future, he has no doubt that you'll see him on TV in a different capacity.
"I'm sure he'll do a round of interviews. Everyone will interview him, but that doesn't mean he's employable," Torossian said, explaining that networks would also clamor to interview scandal-plagued stars like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein if given the opportunity. Being newsworthy and being brandable are different things."
In January, Smollett told police he was attacked by two masked men as he was walking home from a Chicago Subway sandwich shop at approximately 2 a.m. The openly gay actor alleged that the masked men beat him, taunted him with homophobic and racial slurs and yelled: "This is MAGA country."
"The headline of Jussie Smollett's obituary has already been written."
In February, police reportedly determined that Smollett's masked assailants were brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo. Authorities also identified the brothers as those on surveillance video purchasing the rope that was reportedly hung around Smollett's neck during the alleged attack.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told the press that the Osundairos were cooperating with his department's investigation — and that the probe had pivoted from a hate crime investigation into a case of false reporting, transforming Smollett from an alleged victim in the case into a suspect, then a defendant. Smollett was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report; he pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Torossian suggests that if Smollett truly was an innocent victim of a hate attack that the actor should make a public plea and offer a reward to find his actual attackers. The fact that he hasn't may make his claims look all the more bogus.
"This guy is the dumbest criminal in America. The mayor and police and others are still saying he's very much guilty," he said. As far as the charges being dropped, Torossian doesn't think it'll help Smollett's case in the court of public opinion. "What I'm guessing Chicago is saying [by dropping the charges] is that they don't want to spend more money on what's essentially a victimless crime. There's nobody in that city who doesn't think he did it. They just don't want to deal with the headache."
Juda S. Engelmayer of Herald PR has a bit more of a very cautiously optimistic view of Smollett's career comeback prospects.
"I think he can come back, but it will also take some time," Engelmayer told Fox News. "This case didn't just end. It ended with more questions than answers and yes, the issue of unusual preferential treatment is on people's mind; souring or concerning people inclined to think justice and fair play are important. He needs to gain some distance from this time and issue, and time to get far past whatever other investigative legal work might be done here."
"It will be slow, as people feel the public sentiment out and weigh the impact or benefit to them. This became more complicated with the dismissal as it were, and aside from actual friends, anyone with a financial stake will tread carefully here right now," he added. "If he is a good actor, personable and can overcome or surpass this strange period and these events, he has a chance, [but] it won't be for a while."
As for what Smollett can do to repair his image, Engelmayer recommends he avoid the interview circuit altogether.
"What he should do now is stay low," he advised. "Don’t exasperate the public now, and after some time, start being seen with genuinely philanthropic non-political types of functions and activities, just doing pure good and not self-righteously preaching about any causes that can stir unneeded emotions."
Professional repercussions aren't the only ones Smollett may suffer: He may still face federal mail fraud charges and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is reportedly considering suing Smollett to recoup money the city spent investigating the alleged hoax attack.