Though it should be noted that mainstream media, with old-school reporting values, were the most carefully and cautiously qualified of the bunch over Smollett’s incendiary claims, lobbed right into the wheelhouse of America’s deepest, ugliest cleft. Not just distant history, racism, but appallingly contemporary in the United States of Trump. Cross-pollinated — intersectionality, a buzz term I promise never to use again — with anti-gay slurs.
Of course Smollett — Black and gay, just like his character on the hit Fox TV series, Empire — was a profoundly sympathetic victim when he recounted the alleged events of Jan. 29, ’round about 2 a.m. Coldest night of the year and he’d gone out to get a Subway takeout when confronted by two masked men. They shouted: “That f—— Empire n—!’’ and “This is MAGA country!’’ — immediately rendering it a political act in a grotesquely polarized nation.
They bashed his face, crushed his ribs, pulled a noose around his neck.
Noose was still there, circling his throat, some 40 minutes later when police arrived at his condo to interview Smollett about the assault.
Not even the loony right-wing bloviators on Fox News doubted Smollett’s story at the time, at least not that they made mention, closing ranks around a cable network colleague. Hooting later, though, as multiple media outlets, particularly TMZ, relying on multiple anonymous sources, fleshed out a contradictory narrative with Smollett as cunning and conniving orchestrator of the whole apparently fictitious tableau, staging the episode, writing the script, teeing up the actors and kneading the publicity.
For an event not captured on any of the thousands of private and public surveillance cameras in downtown Chicago, one of the most CCTV-blanketed cities in the U.S.
“These types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender conforming siblings daily,” Smollett had proclaimed. “I am not and should not be looked upon as an isolated incident.’’
I’m pretty sure there haven’t been daily pseudo-lynchings south of the border but the other stuff, racial and homophobic baiting, no doubt.
How strange, really, that one was left almost hoping Smollett’s account was true; that he was subjected to vile verbal thrashings and had a rope looped around his neck. If only to blunt the blowback in which the nasty hard right, MAGA Nation and media-bashers are now revelling.
What damage this foolish, vain actor has caused. Gifted the haters with hee-haw ammunition to last . . . well, at least until the next social media driven hoo-hah comes along. But liberals will have to wear the humiliation.
On Tuesday, Chicago police had acknowledged that their conversations with two men who’d been persons of interest had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.’’ Those would be the brothers allegedly hired by Smollett to impersonate his assaulters. (Another racist dangle: They’ve been repeatedly described in media reports as Nigerian, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, arrested at O’Hare last week, upon their return to the country. As they told CBS Chicago earlier this week: “We are not racist. We are not homophobic. We are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.’’
Bodybuilder Abimbola, in fact, was a personal trainer to Smollett; Obabinjo had appeared in the second season of Empire.
Cops aren’t calling Smollett a victim anymore either, latterly referring to him as “the individual who reported the incident.’’
On Monday, after police very publicly requested another interview with Smollett because of much new information obtained, he refused. Earlier, he’d been laggard about turning over his cellphone records and, when finally doing so, they’d been heavily redacted.
Curiouser and curiouser. Stinkier and stinkier.
Rewind to earlier days of the Smollett affair, when police were investigating the alleged attack as a potential hate crime. A dozen of them working the case when they could have been better serving the public otherwise.
Smollett went on Good Morning America — he insisted Robin Roberts conduct the interview, which was a puff probe. Smollett asserted: “If I had said it was a Muslim or Mexican or someone black (who’d attacked him), I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot more.’’ Although, to be fair, Smollett claimed he’d never said anything to cops about a “MAGA’’ comment made during the assault and didn’t know where that phoney detail came from. “I don’t need some MAGA hat at the cherry on top of some racist sundae.’’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had described the attack on Twitter as “an affront to our humanity.’’ Deleted the tweet on Monday.
Freshman Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got right in there, ahead of any police findings: “It was a racist and homophobic attack. It is no one’s job to water down or sugar-coat the rise of hate crimes.’’
That part is factually true — the rise of hate crimes, in the U.S. and Canada.
Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — two Black Democratic presidential candidates — both decried the assault as “a modern day lynching.’’
Rev. Al Sharpton first petitioned President Donald Trump to denounce the attack, now has called for Smollett to be held “accountable to the max” if he perpetrated a hoax.
Problem is the tale, which has unravelled rapidly, strained credulity from the start.
Who would even have recognized Smollett as his Empire character, Jamal Lyon, on the street? Who would conveniently have a piece of rope on hand at 2 a.m.? And why, in the midst of this terrible assault, would Smollett have hung on to his Subway sandwich because surveillance video shows he still had it when entering his building afterward.
And no surveillance video anywhere? When Smollett police led to the spot where the alleged attack occurred, he’s the one who pointed to a nearby camera which — aw shucks — happened to be pointing the wrong way.
Police believe the “Nigerian” brothers did, indeed, buy the rope at a hardware store. That was allegedly in the planning stage. They also found, during a search of the brothers’ home, magazines with pages torn out matching the fonts in a paste-up threatening letter sent to Smollett at the Fox studio eight days before the alleged attack. CBS said it has learned the brothers admitted to police they’d helped Smollett fake the entire incident. Smollett, who has repeatedly insisted he’s telling the truth, denied the allegations again through his lawyers.
“Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,’’ his attorneys said in a statement. “He has been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth.
Except the brothers were allegedly co-conspirator perpetrators and as of Tuesday were no longer considered suspects in an assault that seems never to have happened. Released without charge. Can’t be charged in a fictitious attack.
CNN and other media quote sources saying Smollett cranked up the fabrication after the aforementioned letter failed to stir alarm at the studio — where, it’s been rumoured, executives had been considering eliminated his character from the Empire series. Now there’s a motive, for an actor.
In any event, it was reported on Tuesday that Smollett’s remaining scenes the last couple of episodes still to be filmed for this season have been radically slashed. Wednesday, production on the remaining Empire episodes, for this season, continued, with network executives denying the Smollett’s role had been reduced or eliminated altogether.
“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,’’ the statement read.
There are still some believers, including some in the Black and LGBTQ communities who argue that racist and homophobic America will never be convinced of such crimes, even if there were indisputable evidence. Shades of Rodney King. Two of Smollett’s siblings this week posted a Malcolm X quote: “This is the media, the irresponsible media. It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and the victim look like he’s the criminal.’’
So, a hate-on from the media, left and right. Who knew this is where the two political solitudes would converge?
Gotta say, in the wake of that other media-contorted controversy last month — the misrepresented confrontation between Covington Catholic High School Students and Native American activists at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. — these are not glory days for the rush-to-judgment virtue-signalling brigade. A bad look for liberals, oxygen for the “liberal media bias’’ hordes.
A lynching lie makes an unspeakable mockery of the countless many so murdered.
But hey, the Oscars are still host-less in Hollywood. Smollett: Call your agent. Or maybe Oprah, Chicago talk-show doyenne, will give you a seat on her spill-your-guts sofa.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno