It more than borders on ridiculousness that the salacious and largely implausible account went as far as it did. But when actor Jussie Smollett claimed to be victim of a hate crime attack on a street of Chicago by expletive-spewing, MAGA-hat-wearing white supremacists — in minus-16-degree weather, on foot, at 2 a.m. when Smollett claimed to be out for a sandwich — well the public and mass media bought it. And big!
The story went viral. It went global, the notion of discourse fixated in an instant, upon the handsome gay, black actor. ABC News broadcaster Robin Roberts called Smollett brave in their sit-down interview, as he sniveled and held a stiff upper lip.
And in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election — with left-leaning media outlets and politicians galore scrambling to conjure racial dissent and run with it to erect and buttress a narrative of racial divide under President Donald Trump — well, this attack spoke perfectly to all of that.
Except none of it was true. Not the bleach splashed on Smollett’s skin. Not the noose he claimed the attackers hung around his neck. His supposed attackers weren’t even white, but rather friends from the “Empire” TV production he paid to act an attack out on him, in reasonable view of a street cam. A jury found Smollett guilty of five of six charges.
But beyond Smollett, his narcissism, and the victim-status he sought to parlay into untold publicity, let’s not sidestep what this all stood to put us through, and see clear the parties who clambered to assert it all as fact, irrespective of the facts.
There is a willingness to assail and besmirch, all too easily, for supposedly noble ends. And that is the takeaway to all this. Truth matters little now in the public forum, and cringingly, in the media. And that denotes a shameful place we’ve arrived. Jussie Smollett lied about being victim of a hate crime. And far too many very loud voices carried it forward, which left politicians, talking heads and journalists culpable in these lies, by that association.