By Howard Kurtz
Published February 22, 2019
He also had a few choice words for the media for overplaying the melodrama.
"I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention," Eddie Johnson said.
It still seems incredible that a star of the Fox show "Empire" would blow up his career and traumatize his city for what the cops say was an effort to force his bosses to give him a raise. And it left his defenders scrambling for something to say.
Johnson was extremely forceful at a televised news conference, saying he had to divert precious resources to investigate what was billed as a hate crime and turned out to be a hateful hoax.
"Why would anyone — especially an African-American man — use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?" Johnson asked. "How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?"
And it was a hoax with a political twist since Smollett claimed his faux attackers — two Nigerian brothers he had hired — had shouted that this is "MAGA country." This fueled a corrosive narrative, which some journalists and commentators were way too quick to believe, that Trump supporters were roaming the streets with a rope, looking to beat up a prominent gay black man.
Indeed, the president, who once called the supposed attack "horrible," tweeted about the smearing of his Make America Great Again followers. "What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?"
So many things didn't smell right from the beginning. But journalists had little choice but to report the chilling charges being made by a television actor, especially with Chicago police saying they were seriously investigating the matter as a possible hate crime.
Most news organizations, in my view, acted with restraint in attributing the allegations to Smollett — and comments to the cops — after TMZ broke the story. And as red flags emerged — such as why Smollett delayed in calling the police and was reluctant to turn over his phone — those were reported as well.
But some journalists and pundits were quick to use the supposed incident to score political points.
Washington Post Global Opinion Editor Karen Attiah tweeted:
"Regarding the heinous attack on @JussieSmollett, yet another reminder that Trump’s ascendance and the resulting climate of hate has meant that lives have been increasingly at stake since 2015."
Buzzfeed writer Kevin Fallon tweeted: "Anyone who thinks supporting You Know Who isn't tantamount to providing artillery for weaponized bigotry needs to take a hard look in the mirror."
Fallon did do a followup post: "I deleted previous inaccurate tweets as more reports about Jussie Smollett come out. What a despicable act if updates are true: exploiting & amplifying the hate, division, & politicization; abusing media & police resources; and making it all the harder for victims to report."
Don Lemon said he called Smollett every day to see how he was doing. And the CNN host didn't exactly condemn him.
"If Jussie's story isn't true," he told viewers, "he squandered the goodwill of a whole lot of people. He even lied to a lot of people if it's not true, including me, and that's not cool."
Not cool doesn't begin to describe it.
What's also not cool are the journalists who not only rushed to judgment but rushed to use the supposed beating against Trump. In fact, there's been a whole lot of rushing to judgment lately, and precious little in the way of soul-searching.
Eddie Johnson called on Jussie Smollett to apologize. Some in the media should take that advice as well.