Did the Media Jump the Gun on the Jussie Smollett Story?


In light of new details in the investigation of the alleged assault on actor Jussie Smollett, fingers have been pointed at “the media” for jumping the gun on the story.

In pushing back against that, there is an emerging effort to draw distinction between rapid fire activists and celebrities on social media, and members of the press.

Dave Weigel of the Washington Post, for example, made the distinction in a Tweet on Sunday.

On CNN’s Reliable Sources, Vox’s Liz Plank emphatically made this point, saying she couldn’t find “a real reputable media outlet reporting” that the attack was motivated by MAGA or included a statement about “MAGA country. “I couldn’t find one,” she said. “We can’t confuse celebrity tweets with the media and the press.”

This is a fine idea, and there should be some distinction when referring to the media at large, but in this case the facts simply don’t bear out the premise that the press was not involved in an early pile-on. In fact, dozens of reporters Tweeted these very things, on the day the story broke.

These are only some of the examples. Take a look at these reporters/members of the press/journalists, from…

Staff writer at New York Post:

Zachary Kussin - New York Post

(Above updated to an image, as the tweet was deleted after this post was published.)

Newsweek writer:

Senior Reporter at the Daily Beast:

Writer for Boing Boing. (Deleted)

Writer at Philadelphia Magazine.

Vibe Magazine.

Producer for Nightline on ABC News.

Contributor to Forbes and Slate.

Editor at the LA Times.

Engadget writer.

Buzzfeed writer.

(Above updated to image, tweet was deleted after this was published.)

Reuters reporter.

Writes for Teen Vogue/Wapo.

Freelance contributor to Cosmopolitan/Glamour Magazines.

Senior Writer at Rolling Stone:

AP/NBC News writer and producer.

Film critic/contributor to Village Voice, Guardian.

(Tweet was deleted after this article published.)

HuffPost writer.

Editor at the Washington Post.

Vanity Fair.

From the Chicago local press, which was brought up in the discussion over Dave Weigel’s tweet as well as in the CNN discussion…

Fox 32 anchor and reporter.

And this from Rawstory.

That one was shared, with headline, by this guy, who writes about the spread of fake news:

Here are a few freelance journalists.

Comedian and political commentator:

Another factor that’s not addressed is media who retweet or share the tweets from celebrities and activists. There were a lot of famous people tweeting that day, including politicians, and members of the media shared their tweets.

Cory Doctorow.

Howard Dean.

A Hillary Clinton strategist.

The Democratic Coalition:

A writer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and The Daily Show:

Look at the tweet like count on that one.

The above-mentioned commentary from a Vox contributor were said on CNN’s Reliable Sources. Here are some CNN tweets.

This, for example.

This one, since deleted.

And this one.

April Ryan is, of course, a very high profile White House correspondent for Urban Radio Networks, and is a regular contributor on CNN. That’s not second-guessers or critics blurring a line, that’s a journalist doing the thing that we’re being told they didn’t do.

Mara Liasson of NPR appeared on MediaBuzz on Fox News to talk about the media reaction with Howard Kurtz. The two discussed the difference between jumping the gun and simply reporting on the latest information, and there is a difference. Liasson and Kurtz also it would be equally irresponsible to jump the gun now and declare the Smollett case decided in the other direction. Absolutely true, and collecting the above tweets does not imply otherwise. But it does show that the notion that members of the press were studiously avoiding piling-on after the TMZ story broke are simply not correct. Many, many, many did.

There is a big push to fight fake news by naming, shaming, and driving off of social media those would propagate it. Usually these are far out there people like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who is by no stretch a journalist. This push is on the grounds that the influence and ability to spread false info are damaging and should be stopped. Yet here, there is an effort to say it doesn’t matter what someone famous says, only what a journalist says.

That is a relevant point not because the Smollett story is the same as, for example, an Infowars story, but because the principle of differentiating between press and people who are merely famous is applicable in both cases. That is, either it is worth differentiating between journalists and everyone else, or it is not.

Much like Kmele Foster on CNN, over on FNC, Mara Liasson’s advice to reporters was “just wait before you tweet.” Sound advice for anyone.

[Featured Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)]

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