Behind the Scenes, It’s Clear Chicago Media and Police Doubt Jussie Smollett’s Story
I can’t recall a large crime story where there was a bigger gap between what the police and media are saying publicly, and what they expressing behind the scenes, than the saga involving the recent alleged hate crime against actor Jussie Smollett. Similarly, there may not be a story where you can tell more by what has not happened, in comparison to what actually has occurred.
The current public stance of the Chicago police is that earlier this month, at 2 a.m. on a very cold Chicago night, Smollett was the victim of what appears to be a heinous hate crime where he was physically attacked by two men, and humiliated due to his race, homosexuality, and possibly his opposition to President Donald Trump. The Chicago media, in official reports, has largely treated that narrative as legitimate, while chronicling the complete lack of suspects and corroborating evidence as more of a frustration than any indication that something else might be going on here.
Behind the scenes, however, based on conversations I have had with multiple people covering the story, there is a radically different take on what really did happen to Smollett. In short, there is near unanimity among police sources that Smollett’s story is very likely not true. And that even the media outlets still regurgitating the current “party line” don’t really believe it.
In my experience, most people are very bad at reading the tea leaves in these types of situations, and it often leads to very inaccurate interpretations of what is really going on. This case has several important elements which, if you know what to look for, make evaluating the actions of the police and news media really rather easy.
The first thing you need to understand about this situation is that, because of Smollett’s persona and the nature of his allegation, no one in law enforcement or the news media wants any part of publicly questioning his story. Everyone knows that if they make any sort of negative implication against a black, gay, liberal, celebrity, victim of a horrible hate crime, that they will be roundly and severely attacked, regardless of whether they turn out to be correct.
As a conservative, I look at this as his Political Correctness Force Field. Smollett’s protection here is literally about as strong as it gets, especially in Chicago, a city that has a large black population and is extremely liberal.
So, in this hyper-sensitive media environment, any sort of deviation from the accepted storyline by the police or the news media, much like if your seven-year-old kid is showing subtle signs they no longer believe in Santa Claus, must be given exponentially greater significance than it normally would. Here, both the police and news media in Chicago have provided plenty of those types of veiled indications, both publicly and privately.
Among other things, the police have made it very clear they have not yet found any proof of an attack, despite having almost all of Smollett’s movements on surveillance video. They have disclosed that Smollett would not give over his cell phone to verify his timeline of events. They even published photos of “persons of interest” that they had to know were going to be universally mocked for being obviously irrelevant.
In my view, none of those important revelations would have been made public in the way that they were, unless there was extreme suspicion within the police force that Smollett’s story was not fully accurate.
By extension, media figures would not be being told by their police sources, as I have been told is currently happening both routinely and with vigor, that the authorities are acting on the assumption that they will never find any evidence to fully substantiate Smollett’s story. This isn’t just happening via idle speculation either, the police are doing so with great specificity, even including an alternative theory for what really happened (current attempts to find the origin of the rope found around Smollett’s neck long after the event was over are believed to be the most likely game-changer, if there ever is one in this case).
As for the Chicago media, a couple of local television reporters are apparently using Twitter as a confessional for information about the case that their stations currently fear to air. Rob Elgas of the Chicago ABC affiliate, and Rafer Weigel of the Fox station (which carries Smollett’s show Empire) have continually updated the developments, or lack thereof, in a way that paints a much different picture from the one that viewers would see on an actual newscast.
It is very obvious that if one major news outlet in Chicago had the guts to be the first to openly discredit Smollett’s story, the others would soon follow the leader. But because the risk of being wrong in this situation (see Smollett’s PC Force Field), there is just no incentive to take that dive until and unless the police finally make a definitive statement.
I have written previously about my skepticism about the case, and speculated that this story would quickly disappear because there is no way it would get conclusively solved, and no one in authority will have any appetite for the perils of debunking a story from someone like Smollett. However, Weigel tweeted out some rather candid thoughts yesterday which gave me slight hope that maybe we will actually get to the truth of this matter (though, if that truth is indeed as those closest to the story suspect that it is, the news cycle created by that shocking disclosure will probably be exceedingly short).
Since so many have asked me if @Chicago_Police will let #JussieSmollett case go unsolved, I’ll give my opinion. Given the high-profile nature of the crime, I don’t believe so. I believe they’ll either find the perpetrators responsible or charge #Smollett w/ filing a false report
— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) February 8, 2019
#Chicago is already dealing with a negative image when it comes to crime. Proving #JussieSmollett made up the story would go against that narrative. Conversely, @Chicago_Police bringing any suspects to justice for this horrible crime would bolster the dept’s image.
— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) February 8, 2019
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at email@example.com
[Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.