The hoax perpetrated by Jussie Smollet, an actor in the TV series Empire, provides a window into the widening chasm between reality and the mainstream media. Consider: Smollet claimed he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop at 2:30 AM. This stroll allegedly took place in Chicago’s on one of its coldest days on record. Smollett went on to allege that two MAGA hat wearing thugs appeared out of the blue and attacked him, threw bleach over him, put a noose around his neck and called him various racial and sexual slurs.
Somehow or other Smollet managed to escape and made his way home, after which he reported the crime to the Chicago police.
To believe that this actually happened you have to believe that a couple of MAGA hat wearing thugs just so happened to be roaming around Chicago at 2:30 in the morning in the bitter cold, armed with a noose and bleach, on the lookout for a target. And as luck would have it, when they saw Smollet they recognized him and proceeded to attack. Alternatively, the thugs had to have been stalking Smollet, noose and bleach in hand, at which point they chose to attack him in view of street cameras. Anyway you look at it, the story is wildly implausible.
Most of the media fell for it immediately, hook, line and sinker. Why?
Before addressing the why of it, let’s reflect on a salient point made by Jonah Goldberg of National Review online. Goldberg notes that Jews in Nazi Germany did not stage phony hate crimes; neither did American blacks in the Jim Crow South. The reason is (or ought to be) obvious: there were actual crimes directed against them all the time. They didn’t have to be invented. The Final Solution would eventually be launched in Germany, drenched as it was in decades of anti-Semitism that permeated the culture.
In the Jim Crow south of the United States, scores of American blacks were lynched by mobs. Wikipedia reports that, according to the Tuskegee Institute, 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968 in the United States, including 3,446 African Americans and 1,297 whites. More than 73 percent of lynchings in the post-Civil War period occurred in the Southern states. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, 4,084 African-Americans were lynched between 1877 and 1950 in the South.
Which brings us to the Jussie Smollet episode. There are a couple of reasons for the wall-wall-to-wall coverage of it. The first is that in 21st Century America, an attack of the sort that Smollet described is exceedingly rare. In the United States, a nation of 330 million people, there were about 1,038 hate crimes reported in 2017. To put that in perspective, there were about 1.28 million violent crimes including 17,000 murders in 2017. Smollett faked it precisely because the chance of a real attack like the one alleged is quite small.
Another reason for the wall-to-wall coverage is that the episode played into the prejudices of the media. It is an article of faith among the good and great that, with the possible exception of the residents of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the American people are basically a bunch of bigoted yahoos. The deplorables, as Hillary Clinton put it, who cling to their religion (Obama), who live in flyover country. Jussie Smollet’s hoax played right into that mindset, so the major media outlets had a story that seemed to confirm their worldview of a racist, homophobic, oppressive America.
Except in the end it didn’t. Like the case of the Covington Catholic kids, the alleged victim was actually the aggressor. Similarly, the media breathlessly reported every preposterous charge against Bret Kavanaugh but declined to mention how his accuser’s story kept changing. And somehow or other the #Me Too movement, and Democratic politicians seem to have caught laryngitis when it comes to discussing Justin Fairfax, Virginia’s Lt. Governor who is credibly accused by two different women of sexual assault. Not to put too fine a point on media credulousness, of all people, Al Sharpton, publicist of the Tawana Brawley hoax has weighed in on the Jussie Smollett case. Now of course he is furiously backtracking.
There will inevitably be some idiot in a MAGA hat that fakes his own assault only to blame it on some newscaster or liberal politician. Asininity is not the province of any one side. Perhaps eventually the mainstream press will start acting like professionals for a change and treat these stories with the skepticism they deserve. But I’m not holding my breath.