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The Jussie Smollett story is the perfect example of almost everything wrong with today’s media.
The story followed quickly on the heels of another media hoax, where “neutral” reporters tried to destroy boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, claiming they were racist. That disaster has already led to a $250 million lawsuit against The Washington Post. The overall news coverage was so biased that other lawsuits will likely follow.
Yet journalists learned nothing.
The media found their perfect story in Jussie Smollett. The obscure “Empire” actor – who is black and gay – claimed he had been assaulted in Chicago by two men who yelled “This is MAGA country" and shouted anti-black and anti-gay epithets.
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It was exactly the story liberal journalists, actors and politicians craved. It demonized people wearing the “Make America Great Again” hats favored by President Trump’s supporters. The supposedly pro-Trump “attackers” were also portrayed as racists who brought a noose to their assault and hated gays.
The story had everything but skepticism.
The Smollett case landed right at the intersection of pop culture, politics, racism and fame. It became a weapon for the left to wield against the evil, MAGA-hat wearing villains the media so despised.
But many on the right saw it as just another in a long line of hate crime claims that would likely fall apart. Few listened.
The very next day, the Washington Post ran a story headlined: “The Jussie Smollett attack highlights the hate black gay Americans face.” It was one of the first of almost countless think pieces, many decrying the horrible racism of “the Trump administration with their dog whistle politics.”
The Smollett case was a news story, covered by news reporters. But it was also a culture story covered by people who don’t know how to cover crime stories. The whole concept of an “alleged” crime went out the window.
The incident went viral with posts coming not just 24-7, but 60-60-24-7. Twitter was flooded with comments supporting Smollett and slamming racist conservatives. The comments from pundits, actors and journalists became almost indistinguishable.
New York Post staff writer Zachary Kussin got to the heart of the matter, reportedly tweeting, “I also hate when cops investigate this kind of blatant s---- as a ‘possible hate crime.’ This is obviously a hate crime.”
CNN political analyst April Ryan said much the same, declaring: “This attack on @JussieSmollett is a hate crime and should be treated as such!”
Millions have now viewed how actress Ellen Page used the incident to rant against Vice President Mike Pence opposing gay weddings like her own. Page complained about Pence during her interview on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” and argued that “people are going to be beaten in the street” because of anti-LGBT attitudes.
There were so many over-the-top takes that Mediaite’s Caleb Howe amassed a list of about three dozen overboard comments, most from the media. Yet journalists denied they had done anything wrong.
CNN’s Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter pointed his finger for problems as being “mostly in the celebrity press and among activists and among Twitter people.” He was defensive of the rest of the media. “I think it was a really careful reporting by news organizations,” he said at the beginning of the week.
As the Smollett claims collapsed, the press tried to find new anti-media outrages. The New York Times ran a piece Wednesday about how “Trump Attacks The Times, in a Week of Unease for the American Press,” yet it somehow left out the Smollett disaster. It only mentioned the Covington fiasco to complain about the president’s “anti-newspaper animus.”
Now Smollett has been arrested and journalists still haven’t learned a thing. They whine that Trump and his supporters are anti-First Amendment, even though that same amendment also protects Trump’s speech along with their own.
And too few journalists want to admit they are the problem, or that hype and clicks go hand-in-hand with hatred and division. News exists to report on the problems of the world. Yet it is thoroughly incapable of reporting on the problems of the news itself.
Most journalists don’t want the truth. They want the narrative that depicts them as good guys, as truth tellers – no matter how many stories they get wrong or how many lives they ruin doing it.