On Thursday, Jussie Smollett appeared on Good Morning America, noting that while he was “pissed off” at the attackers he claims targeted him with homophobic and racist slurs, he was equally upset at “the attacks” that followed, i.e. the swarm of doubters who didn’t quite think his story added up.
Admittedly, the news cycle around the reported attack has been quite the rollercoaster. There has been so much back-and-forth in regards to the persons of interest, their race, whether Smollett knew the attackers, the probability of an attack happening during the middle of a polar vortex in Chicago, whether a “MAGA” comment was ever uttered, the logistics around the location of the attack and its proximity to his apartment ... the list went on. And on.
The safest thing to do was to remain silent about it until actual suspects were confirmed or charges were handed out (professional reporting notwithstanding), as the entire narrative appeared to stand on shaky ground.
The most recent kerfuffle began when it was reported that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) were questioning the two persons of interest identified in the surveillance video from the night in question. Local independent station WGN-TV reported the two men taken in for interrogation were “of Nigerian descent and live in Chicago” and that one of them apparently worked as an extra on Empire.
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Things spiraled out of control when reputable news sources such as ABC Chicago and Variety started providing broader coverage piggybacking off WGN’s take and adding their own pretty damning reports. The latter even included a “Jussie Smollett Attack Was Staged, Police Say” social media headline in its report it was later forced to delete when police deemed it inaccurate, clarifying that information was given by “sources.”
Then, there was this figurative nuclear bomb:
That was precisely the point when shit imploded. To add to the initial rumors that this whole thing was basically a Lee Daniels production far exceeding his dramatized television show on Fox, an extra whammy dropped when sources alleged the whole thing stemmed from Smollett’s character supposedly being written off.
A scandal! Where was Olivia Pope to fix this? Sheesh. To say it was a circus at this point would have been putting it mildly, to be honest.
Quickly after, however, it became apparent that Chicago Police had not, in fact, confirmed any reports of a staged hoax. The alleged “sources” were deemed “uninformed and inaccurate.”
Things got so out of hand that the Empire writers’ room and co-creator Danny Strong took to Twitter to refute the rumors. FOX even released an official statement debunking the hoax reports.
A whole hot ass mess. The lot of it.
Some people pointed out one glaring aspect: the rush to share details of the “hoax” was aided by clear MAGA supporters or otherwise ultra conservatives.
As I gawked in amazement at the clusterfuck I was witnessing on social media in real time, I noticed a few things and got to musing:
1. That desire to be “first” is real. And because social media has granted everyone a platform, this eagerness is no longer exclusive to breaking news reporters, and hasn’t been for a good while now. In the rush to provide commentary on what was a scandalous “reveal,” people may have not realized they were essentially siding with the very bigoted groups of people who don’t even want them to have basic human rights.
2. General and healthy skepticism aside, there’s something else occurring here that needs to be pointed out: there are clearly people who never believed Smollett from the very beginning. Now, this could be due to an array of things: It could be something personal against him, the disconnect between fighting for black men and fighting for gay rights (and the intersection smack dab in the middle), or simply being swept up in the shoddy reporting/rumor mill about the incident. Who’s to say?
But, there was a bizarre sense of ... joy around the whole thing that was very, very unsettling. It was a “gotcha” moment prevalent on social media, where people hop on the prime opportunity to unleash that they “never liked that nigga anyway.” Because, let’s face it, if this whole thing turned out to be a hoax, that would be supremely fucked up on another level. There’d be nothing funny about it, as the details of this reported incident aren’t isolated and speak to a larger issue.
3. The following dichotomy: You’re aware of the countless times Russian bots have crafted and implemented targeted campaigns to the detriment of black people, right? It was certainly easy to write off said fake news (real fake news, not the “fake news” dubbed by President Circus Peanut) in that case. When you use that same shaky news platform to then attack Smollett’s character, how does that exactly line up? And let’s say CPD did, in fact, legitimize the sources claiming the “staged” story. Since when do you immediately trust the words of the Chicago Police, when you’ve seen the corruption within their system at the expense of several black bodies? Does that change when that black body is black and gay? Or a celebrity on a show you don’t care for? Or for general tea and messiness? How do you reconcile with that?
I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, especially as the status of major aspects of this horrific ordeal is still outstanding. I just ... don’t know. And at this juncture, it’s okay. It’s okay to say that.