Jussie Smollett and the rush to judgment
Some readers are so eager to react to what I write that they don't always bother to wait for me to write it.
"You should write about the Smollett hoax," said one reader's email earlier this week. "But you won't."
Au contraire, my friend. I accept that challenge.
"When do I get to see a column about the 'Empire' star's scam that nobody questioned?" another wrote. "I guess he lives in the no-touch territory?"
Hardly. These readers, as you may have guessed, are referring to "Empire" singer and actor Jussie Smollett, who made headlines recently as an alleged victim of a hate crime in Chicago, only to see his story challenged.
Stories change when real facts come in, but some people suspect that a partisan bias drives everything in media, especially when the news involves a liberal.
This saga began Jan. 29 in the wee hours of a very cold night in the Streeterville neighborhood in downtown Chicago, when Smollett told police that he had been beaten, doused with a liquid that appeared to be bleach and left with a noose around his neck by two men wearing ski masks.
The men shouted anti-black and anti-gay slurs, said Smollett, an openly gay African-American who also plays one on "Empire." He said the two men also shouted, "This is MAGA country," referencing the acronym for President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."
Well, faster than you can say "intersectionality," voices of outrage and sympathy erupted from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.
"The racist, homophobic attack on @JussieSmollett is an affront to our humanity," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, tweeted -- and then later deleted.
California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, both Democratic presidential hopefuls, called the attack "an attempted modern-day lynching."
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat considering a run for president, tweeted: "This is a sickening and outrageous attack and horribly, it's the latest of too many hate crimes against LGBTQ people and people of color."
Freshman New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that it was "a racist and homophobic attack" and "It is no one's job to water down or sugar-coat the rise of hate crimes."
Maybe not but, as any reputable police reporter will tell you, it pays to be cautious and make frequent use of qualifiers like "allegedly" and "reportedly" and "according to police" when passing on raw crime reports.
The reason for that became obvious this past weekend when unnamed law enforcement sources told the Chicago Tribune and other media that police are now investigating whether Smollett paid two Nigerian brothers who reportedly worked with him on "Empire" -- one of whom also was Smollett's personal trainer -- to stage the attack on him. Smollett has denied that charge but has continued putting off speaking further with police, who have said they have more questions for him.
Conservatives, like those who emailed me, have had a jolly good time mocking liberals who, as this story first broke, seemed eager to accept Smollett's alleged victimization, despite a shortage of corroborating evidence.
"Hey Hollywood and media types," tweeted Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son and, following daddy's footsteps, proud Twitter troll. "I've noticed a lot of you deleted your #JusticeForJussie tweets ... what's the matter, don't you want justice for him anymore??? #frauds."
Well, considering his role as a person of great interest to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of alleged Russian interference in our 2016 elections, Don Jr. probably should not be too cocky.
Yet, like his dad, he couldn't keep his thumbs off Twitter. The Advocate counted "no less than 35 tweets, retweets and references to Smollett on Trump Jr.'s Twitter in 48 hours" before the weekend.
There's no question that a lot of people have rushed to judgment about this story. Some even forgot those valuable little "allegedly" and "reportedly" disclaimers. Yet I find it amusing to see how often the same people who accused us media workers of rushing to judgment when Smollett was viewed as a victim suddenly began rushing to judgment themselves about his possible guilt, once the tables started to turn.
In the pursuit of justice, after all, it is important to remember that, throughout the weekend's flurry of news and gossip about the story, Smollett had not been charged officially with any wrongdoing.
Like anyone else in this country, he has the right to be presumed innocent until found guilty, even if it does turn out he committed a hate crime against himself.
(E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.)(c) 2019 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.