Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good narrative.
But that’s what happened in the case of Jussie Smollett, a gay, black actor who stars in the show “Empire,” who claimed he was the victim of a vicious and brutal hate crime in Chicago. On Wednesday, Smollett was charged with filing a false police report and disorderly conduct.
Smollett initially blamed supporters of President Donald Trump for the attack, a narrative many in the mainstream media were eager to promote.
Before the story was even corroborated, Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America” had Smollett on for an interview.
But as facts rolled in, it became clear that Smollett’s story had a lot of holes. Now the Chicago Police Department is investigating him for hoaxing the whole incident.
Will those who jumped in to condemn Americans and the president for this incident be called on to apologize? Probably not.
Though many in the national media breathlessly covered Smollett’s initial version of events, at least some credit to local media is due. A CBS affiliate in Chicago did a fantastic job of covering this story from the beginning and remaining committed relaying the facts about the case. However, far too many rushed to promote this story as an indictment on the country.
This complete whiff by the media comes on the heels of the Covington Catholic fiasco. Remember when the media badly misconstrued a story involving a student wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and a Native American?
That disaster led to student’s parents suing The Washington Post for libel to the tune of $250 million.
What makes this particularly interesting is that Justice Clarence Thomas, just a day after the story about that libel suit broke, said in a concurring opinion that he questions the precedent set in the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan.
This case set the standard that “actual malice” or “reckless disregard” of the truth is the bar for libel. Changing that standard back to how American law was before this case could put media organizations in hot water for botching stories so badly.
One way or another, the Smollett and Covington stories, along with many others, have undermined American’s trust for the press, which often, collectively, seems eager to promote storylines that line up with their own political views rather staying committed to finding the truth.