It is, as yet, not entirely clear whether Empire actor Jussie Smollett is telling the truth. Smollett had claimed, per the Washington Examiner, that his attackers were white, had shouted “This is MAGA country,” had beaten him soundly, tied a noose around his neck, and poured an unknown chemical over him.
The ground seems to be shifting beneath Smollett’s initial recounting, however, as new details come to light under a police investigation. Vanity Fair breathlessly recounted the sordid details in an article that did not bother to interrogate the actor’s allegations as simply that — allegations — instead recounting his story as hard news reportage. While certain details of the story were offered a caveat, the fact that “Smollett was attacked by two white men” was offered up as being beyond dispute.
Now, as CBS Chicago reports, sources say that the investigation has drastically shifted focus. Two Nigerian brothers who were allegedly paid by Smollett have seen their home raided by police, with the subsequent evidence being discovered being particularly damning to Smollett’s accounting of events. The same rope — called a noose — by Smollett was found on the scene, as were a red hat, bleach, and an Empire script. The source claims that the brothers were questioned by police, and told them that they had coordinated with Smollett in the staging of the attack. CBS Chicago also details that their source claims the brothers were paid $3,500 after having conducted the incident, whereupon they quickly fled to Nigeria for a period of time. They were apparently apprehended by law enforcement officials after returning to the United States.
Jussie Smollett 'paid Nigerian brothers to attack him' https://t.co/Kw7pUAgFNl— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) February 17, 2019
Whether or not Smollett lied about the attack — in great or in small detail — is important, but what may even more important is to consider how the press unwittingly stoked the flames of division even further by accepting his account at face value. While it would certainly be a grand coincidence that the two men would be known to Smollett, would have the items he detailed as being part of the attack in their apartment, would have suggested they worked with him in concert while under police questioning — in a court of law, one is innocent until proven guilty.
In certain corners of the media circus, however, a purported victim is always to be believed, despite a questionable story and a lack of substantial evidence. No longer does the burden of proof fall upon the accuser — a tenet of Enlightenment philosophy.
Further, such an account can be then be used to stoke partisan divides and greater political fracture.
Per Townhall, Ellen Page took to Stephen Colbert’s late night show to excoriate anyone who dare disbelieve Smollett’s accounting of events, using emotionally charged language to illogically frame Vice President Mike Pence as having been responsible for a purported hate crime. Representative Maxine Waters took the opportunity, per the Daily Mail, to frame Trump for the purportedly vicious crime — despite the fact that President Trump had immediately commented on the alleged attack to say it was “horrible.” Reverend Al Sharpton and the usual rogues gallery of cultural critics tripped over one another to virtue signal over the incident, pushing one another out of the way to find a proper spot in front of a camera and a microphone. Victimhood — real or imagined — has become an attractive drug, an emotional high, to too many people in positions of power.
Smollett himself is certainly not innocent of hurling hateful invective. In a Twitter message dated January 11, 2018, Smollett referred to Trump as a “b*tch ass n**ga,” and a “literal sh**,” after telling the president to “shut the hell up.” There was an apparent fixation with the president’s politics and policies, and while it is certainly appropriate to disagree with one’s elected leader, the fact that a clear motive to frame the alleged attack as a MAGA-fueled hate crime exists cannot be easily denied.
Hate crime hoaxes have seen a resurgence in popularity as late, with Breitbart compiling list of the 10 most influential from 2018 alone. From recalcitrant Kavanaugh accusers to numerous other politically motivated stunts, it appears that the truth — and the truth alone — is not enough to satisfy a 24 / 7 media cycle hungry for salacious headlines, particularly if those headline conjure the fell beasts of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, or anything which casts Donald J. Trump in a particularly sinister light.
One particular example of the latter, per NPR, came just prior to the 2016 presidential election. In a widely reported story wherein a black church was vandalized with “Vote Trump” graffiti and set aflame prior to said election — a story where the primary narrative was that of a growing “hate movement” led by Trump — it turns out that the arsonist and vandal in question was actually an African-American parishioner of said church. Mississippi insurance commissioner Mike Chaney would then have the gall to claim that, “We do not believe it was politically motivated… There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated.”
This may beggar belief, but it may also be unfortunately representative of the rigid intellectual paradigm of “listen, and believe.” This is particularly evident when the truth may be uncomfortably politically incorrect under the contemporary paradigm.
Objectivity may be an impossibility, as gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once famous wrote, but such a utopian ideal still remains a concept worth striving for — particularly amongst the professional press.
Smollett’s lawyers, perhaps unsurprisingly, deny all claims that their client engaged in the manufacturing of a hate crime hoax, per the BBC.