The affair of Jussie Smollett

UPDATE: Reuters reports that Smollett staged the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary on Empire. (It must have been substantial, though!). This motive apparently comes not from Smollett, of course, but probably from the two “assailants” he hired.

And it gets even weirder. Smollett wrote a CHECK to pay off his assailants, or so this NBC reporter says. HOW CAN YOU BE THAT DUMB?

____________

I think that almost everyone has heard of what happened with Jussie Smollett, who’s fairly well known for playing a musician in the ongoing Fox drama Empire. As Wikipedia recounts the details, Smollett, who lives in Chicago where the series is filmed, claimed that he was attacked on the night of January 19 by two white men who beat him, put a noose around his neck, and dumped a chemical on him. They also apparently called him a “nigger” and a “faggot” (he’s gay and black), and shouted, “This is MAGA country.” (That, of course, stands for the Trump motto, “Make America Great Again.”)

This seemed fishy from the outset. How could these guys have known who he was unless they were tracking him? The shouted motto and noose seemed stereotypical, a bit over the top. More important, Chicago police couldn’t find any evidence of an attack from video surveillance, and when the cops came several hours later, Smollett was still wearing the noose around his neck. Why didn’t he take it off?

As the police investigation continued, with a dozen officers assigned to the case, Smollett’s story began to unravel. It was found that his assailants were both black; why would they attack another black man and use racist epithets? Moreover, both of the supposed assailants, brothers, had tangential connections to the show Empire, and that was deeply suspicious. They both knew Smollett. Finally, it appeared that both men, who were from Nigeria, told the police that Smollett had hired them to conduct the attack.

Now, as the New York Times reports, Smollett, who turned himself in to police this morning, has been charged with faking an accident report, which is a class 4 felony in Illinois—a crime for which he could face up to three years in prison. There’s also a threatening note that Smollett received, and if he’s complicit in that, as seems likely, he faces federal charges on top of the state charges (he used the U.S. Mail).

The story, as the NYT recounts, was initially taken up widely by the media as an example of not just racism and homophobia, but also bigotry inspired by Donald Trump. There wasn’t much skepticism or withholding of judgment, despite the holes in Smollett’s story.

Why did Smollett, though, who was pretty famous and certainly well off, have to concoct an incident like this? Writing in The Atlantic, John McWhorter, an author and professor of linguistics at Columbia University, and also a black man, has a thoughtful answer. Click on the screenshot below to read it.

Now it’s almost too easy to use this incident—and I’m assuming the police allegations are true—to indict not just the social justice crowd but also the credulous media. After all, it plays into the hands of all of us who hate Trump and his administration, and also to that moiety of the Left that sees racism and homophobia as institutionalized in this country (I see this bigotry as a recurring problem to be solved, but not, in general, as an institutionalized one). But there’s another side of the coin: these incidents of false reporting play into the hands of the Right as well, actually strengthening Trump’s supporters and giving people an excuse to dismiss any claim of violence motivated by bigotry. For these reasons we should maintain skepticism from the outset, trying to be compassionate but also looking hard at the evidence.

Still, the question remains: why did Smollett do this?  And that’s the topic of McWhorter’s essay. While noting that racism is still with us, he raises the tropes of “victimhood chic” and “professional martyrs”:

Until this twist [the Chicago police changing the “trajectory of the investigation” after looking at the evidence], smart people were claiming that the attack on Smollett was the story of Donald Trump’s America writ small—that it revealed the terrible plight of minority groups today. But the Smollett story, if the “trajectory” leads to evidence of fakery, would actually reveal something else modern America is about: victimhood chic. Future historians and anthropologists will find this aspect of early-21st-century America peculiar, intriguing, and sad.

Smollett doesn’t need the money he would get from a court settlement, and he isn’t trying to deny someone higher office. So why in the world would he fake something like that attack—if he did indeed fake it? The reason might be that he has come of age in an era when nothing he could have done or said would have made him look more interesting than being attacked on the basis of his color and sexual orientation.

Racial politics today have become a kind of religion in which whites grapple with the original sin of privilege, converts tar questioners of the orthodoxy as “problematic” blasphemers, and everyone looks forward to a judgment day when America “comes to terms” with race. Smollett—if he really did stage the attack—would have been acting out the black-American component in this eschatological configuration, the role of victim as a form of status. We are, within this hierarchy, persecuted prophets, ever attesting to the harm that white racism does to us and pointing to a future context in which our persecutors will be redeemed of the sin of having leveled that harm upon us. We are noble in our suffering.

Indeed, McWhorter argues later on that the fact that being a victim of racist and homophobic bigotry gives you fame and admiration shows that this country has ascended the moral arc for civil right and gay rights, for in the bad old days you would not be a hero if you were a black or gay man who was attacked.

Certainly, the professional martyr is a race-neutral personality type. However, since the civil-rights victories of the 1960s, when whites became open in a new way to understanding black pain, that personality type has been especially useful to black Americans. With positive racial self-image possibly elusive after hundreds of years of naked abuse, the noble-victim position can seem especially, and understandably, comforting. It can also be handy, in a fashion quite unexpected to anyone who was on the front lines of race activism 50 years ago—as a road to stardom.

“Professional martyr” is a useful term for such cases, and there are many incidents in which people have faked attacks like this to either buttress their cause or claim victim status. (I’m not denigrating, of course, those true reports of attacks based on racism and other forms of bigotry.)

As far as what Smollett had to gain, it was this admiration. He already had it, but presumably craved more:

[Rachel] Dolezal, white, spent years with a spray tan, “identifying” as black and even heading a local NAACP branch, and had fabricated episodes of racist discrimination against herself. As Bryan Cranston’s dentist character on Seinfeld adopted Judaism for the jokes, Dolezal, one might say, took on blackness for the victimhood. She felt that her existence was more meaningful while she was “playing” an oppressed black person than living as a white person despite all the attendant privileges. Few news events more perfectly illustrated that in our moment, a claim of victimhood from a black person is a form of power. Only in an America much further past the old days than many like to admit could a white person eagerly seek to be a put-upon black person out of a sense that it looked “cool.” A Dolezal would have been unimaginable until roughly the late 1990s.

One could imagine that Smollett, if he was playacting, had a similar motivation. For Smollett, being a successful actor and singer might not have been quite as exciting as being a poster child for racist abuse in Trump’s America.

Assuming, again, that the reports are accurate, Smollett’s clumsiness would be an especially poignant indication of how deeply this victimhood chic has taken hold—almost as if he thought this was such an easy score that he didn’t even need to think too hard about the logistics.

Now of course McWhorter is psychologizing Smollett here, and we don’t know what was in Smollett’s mind, but, for a rational person, I can’t think of any other motivation. In his last sentence, McWhorter finds a silver lining in this cloud:

. . . Smollett, if the latest reporting is true, was an eager puppy, jumping with joyous inattention into American social politics as he has encountered it coming of age in the 21st century. He would have known that in this moment, very important people would find him more interesting for having been hurt on the basis of his identity than for his fine performance on an interesting hit television show. He would have known this so well that it didn’t even occur to him that his story would have to be more credible than the dopey one he threw together about being jumped in near-Arctic temperatures by the only two white bullies in America with a mysterious fondness for a black soap hip-hopera. (Yet again, I’m assuming the latest reporting is accurate.)

Only in an America in which matters of race are not as utterly irredeemable as we are often told could things get to the point that someone would pretend to be tortured in this way, acting oppression rather than suffering it, seeking to play a prophet out of a sense that playing a singer on television is not as glamorous as getting beaten up by white guys. That anyone could feel this way and act on it in the public sphere is, in a twisted way, a kind of privilege, and a sign that we have come further on race than we are often comfortable admitting.

I don’t feel any Schadenfreude in this incident. Smollett is a figure to be pitied, and, given that his career is ruined, I don’t see why (if he’s found guilty) he needs to spend much time in jail, except perhaps a modicum of incarceration to deter others from the same kind of behavior. No matter how much time he does, he’ll always be known as the bozo who faked his own attack. The lesson, as everybody has already drawn, is to be skeptical of claims like this, and not bruit about the mantra “believe the victim.”

Empathy yes, credulity no. For it is stuff like this that will help Trump in 2020, and contribute to the division of America.

82 Comments

  1. Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    This Twitter thread, by Andy Ngo, gives a list of such “false flag” incidents:

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Oops, sorry for embedding it.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      ” He was only [sic] charged w/a misdemeanor.

      I believe that, where the damage resulting from vandalism is under $750, a misdemeanor is the most serious charge that can be brought in Indiana.

      • a-non
        Posted February 21, 2019 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Had the vandal been a neo-nazi thug, do you know what he would have been charged with? Would this limit have applied?

        I believe that in the UK, this imaginary neo-nazi would have been charged with a hate crime, and much higher penalties.

        There’s a school of thought that the punishment should not be reduced for hate hoaxes — the intention is still to stoke hate, after all.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 21, 2019 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          Indiana doesn’t have a hate crime statute. It does, however, aggravate the penalty for vandalism done to certain types of structures, including those “used for religious worship,” see Indiana Code section 35-42-1-2, but only from a Class B to Class A misdemeanor.

          I’m unaware of any felony statute the gay Hoosier church organist (or an imaginary neo-Nazi) could’ve been charged with for this type of vandalism.

  2. Randy Bessinger
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Besides helping Trump, I see this as a problem when real racism and prejudice rears its head. The knee jeck resction is…here is another example of the left trying to show there is still a problem with racism in America when there isn’t any. Then I have a guy who does work on my house and he comes over and says the n word, hates gays, and says the measles outbreaks are because of illegal immigrants. He loves Trump.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      I must say that in every other way, he is a great talented guy, and I like him. I just don’t like his politics and his racism.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Can’t you find someone else to work on your house?

      • Randy Bessinger
        Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        As posted above, in every other way, I like him. He is a very well liked guy. I think those that think that his outspoken views are rare, are misguided.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:48 am | Permalink

          The type of racism you describe seems to come in two broad (sometimes overlapping) varieties: one is a pathological hatred; the other, a more casual bigotry usually learned from one’s elders in childhood that remains unexamined unto adulthood.

          • Randy Bessinger
            Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

            I think the latter. I don’t know about unexamined though. I am more inclined to believe that it is reinforced by family, chosen media, and peer groups.

            I think much of real racism is not violent but more attitudes and emotions.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              Oh, I think it’s frequently reinforced by peer groups and family. But it’s much less frequently reexamined on the basis of first principles. Those who so examine it, abandon it.

              • Randy Bessinger
                Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

                Agreed.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Me too. I posted this on Twitter earlier:

  3. dd
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I was fascinated by this case from the start and followed closely.

    The internet, meaning commenters in lots of different sites, was extremely skeptical right from the start. The usual celebrities and politicos (Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker) and media pounced in self-righteousness.

    It’s now known that Jussie Smollett. did it to get more money as he was unhappy with his salary. Among details of Smollett was that he was arrested before for DUI and I understand gave his brother’s name to the officers instead of his own.

    BTW, Did you know he is Jewish? I read that in the Jerusalem Post. Fascinating how little play that got. Is it because being Jewish has little or no victimhood currency unlike being black and gay? Despite the fact that Jews are a huge target of hate crime…maybe highest per capita.

    The best reporting by far was done by Chicago local media. The national media was largely a disgrace, reporting through the lens of confirmation bias.

    He paid the 2 guys he hired to stage the attack with a check and police have the check.

    https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2019/02/21/jussie-smollett-surrenders-disorderly-conduct-staged-attack/?fbclid=IwAR1HWOMVbJ46uG70KASdiyjuSC_iSwfd6uytsyxly_hE9BVh3OWNiN9gD7Q

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      There was a press conference this morning on CNN led by a major figure in the Chicago police dept, and he provided many interesting details, including the point that the ‘attackers’ were saying that Smollett wanted to be paid more and that he concocted this whole story in order to somehow get that for him. Also, the earlier racist letter was something that Smollett wrote himself. They were able to track the perpetrators by various cameras, and through that they were able to eventually identify them. It looked to me like they rather quickly became suspicious about the whole thing.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 22, 2019 at 1:07 am | Permalink

      “He paid the 2 guys he hired to stage the attack with a check and police have the check.”

      So, not only an idiot, but a stupid idiot as well…

      cr

  4. Loek Schoenmakers
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    We had a similar case in Holland in 1988, where a famous Jewish actor (Jules Croiset) claimed to have been kidnapped by fascists. He ultimately wrote a book about this. General public consensus became that the whole affair was the psychological response to traumatic experiences.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Screenshot doesn’t link to McWhorter article. The link is here.

  6. Paul
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Is this a form of Munchausen? (sp??)

  7. Adam M.
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    These kinds of stories are not all that uncommon, although this one is the first I’ve seen of a celebrity doing it. There are many reports of swastikas, nooses, and other hate paraphernalia showing up on campuses and many of them – actually almost all that I’m aware of when the perpetrator was actually found – turn out to be committed by a member of the group supposedly victimized, usually by a black man. The reasons given vary, but usually they say they did it to rile people up so they’ll support social justice reforms. A kind of “lying for Jesus”.

    But what really interests me is the media coverage of these cases and others. The initial reports are always widely reported, but when the truth comes out, very few of the outlets that breathlessly reported about (assumed) racist white men ever issue a correction. Often only right-wing media report the follow-up. In mainstream media, the story just quietly disappears. The truth only seems to have gotten somewhat widespread coverage in this case because Smollett is famous. When that 7-year old girl was tragically shot recently, it was national news for days and widely reported to have been the work of a racist white man, but when he turned out not to be white the story quietly disappeared with very few corrections. I spot-checked a handful of Google results just now (for “7 year old girl shot”) and they all still said it was committed by a white man. No corrections. And of course if a white man attacks a black man, or is assumed to have, it’s usually right in the headline and repeated throughout the article, whereas you never see a headline like “black man stabs white man on the bus”. Quite often they go out of their way to omit that information, sometimes even dropping it from suspect descriptions given by witnesses. When groups of 50+ young black men swarm BART trains in San Francisco, robbing and beating non-black passengers, which has happened several times, they’re just described as “teens” or “youths” with no mentions of race or photographs.

    It seems to me that the media is really trying to push a narrative here on race, one of racist white men constantly and often violently oppressing black men (when crime statistics on violent interracial crimes are overwhelmingly the other way). I’m sure they’d have liked to cover it up this time too, if they could have. It’s really blatant, and it erodes my trust in the media.

    • rustybrown
      Posted February 23, 2019 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Adam, well said. Race hucksterism is rampant in American society and is cynically encouraged by the left and the media. It really took off under Obama and has gotten much worse among Democrats. Just look at all the Dem front runners who were so eager to stoke the false narrative of the Smollett case. All of them immediately came out with strong condemnations to push a false narrative even though the initial facts of the case should have warranted skepticism for any rational person.

      Current leftist dogma dictates we never discuss the disproportionately high black crime rate (hate facts) but focus instead on weird, racist outlier offenses committed by whites (Barbecue Becky, etc.). This is extremely damaging to our nation as it guarantees a perpetual recycling of racial grievances.

    • rustybrown
      Posted February 23, 2019 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Too funny, I clicked on the NYT site in my tabs just now and on top of the fold we’re presented with a burning swastika and the breathless headline:

      “The Grave Threats of White Supremacy and Far-Right Extremism. Hate Crimes are on the Rise”

      Just for kicks I scrolled down to see if there was any mention of the Smollett case on the front page. Nah.

      The Narrative Lives!

      • Posted February 23, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Are you seriously suggesting that the Smollett case balances hate crimes being on the rise? One is a single incident and the other a statistic. Your unscientific arguments are not going to impress most people who read this website. Take your muddy thinking elsewhere.

        • rustybrown
          Posted February 23, 2019 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          Did you see the list of recent hate hoaxes that Coel posted above? I’m not talking about a single case but a multitude of them. How many of those made it into the NYT, especially front page, top of fold? I could list more. Jesus, we had another high profile near-hoax just a couple of weeks ago with the innocent MAGA Covington kids. It’s a good thing there was ample video evidence to counter the leftist narrative in that one or a child’s life may have been ruined. As it stands now he may become a very wealthy kid as a result of his lawsuits.

          My “unscientific arguments”? What are you referring to?

  8. Peter Bracken
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    ‘Victimhood chic’ – it’s an apposite description. And it has its counterpart in the saccharine chic that disfigures so much of social media. Why do so many rush to gush?

    BTW, as a European, I reach for the bucket whenever some public figure opines ‘God Bless America.’ Talk about testing the gag reflex.

    • Ann German
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      My friend and I specialize in anagramming all that trite shit: “God Bless America” can be read as “Dog Bile Ass Cream.” Wish I had a pharmacy marquee I could post that on.

  9. Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I disagree with McWhorter’s timing of ‘victimhood chic’ to the late 90s.

    In the mid 80s Morton Downey Jr. claimed to be attacked by Nazis who forcibly drew a swastika on him. Police were skeptical because the swastika was mirror-image – as if Downey drew it in the mirror ( real Nazis would know how to draw a swastika correctly!)
    Dont know if they police ever proved he faked it.

    • Anonymous
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I didn’t see your comment before posting mine. You beat me to the punch. I don’t think he ever admitted it.

      • Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        This is the last comment I let in with “Anonymous” as the name, and no name or email address filled in. I’ve explained why before; PLEASE make sure a name and email address is attached to your comment.

        Thanks.

  10. randallschenck
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Well the Chicago police did a conference to the press on TV, about an hour ago. They spent a lot of time, more than I would have thought necessary, going over the whole thing in detail.

    Knowing why someone did something like this does not really tell us what is truly wrong with the person. One reason given was he was unhappy with his pay, his salary. Of course that makes no sense to most of us, anymore than the act itself. But everyone now will be even more interested in his mental health.
    The real damage here, as told by the police was how much time was spent by lots of the police force investigating this saga. Time that could have been spent on real crime.

    There was a mass shooting just the other day in the suburbs of Chicago and that one came and went like many others, while the media concentrated on this celebrity.

  11. Jenny Haniver
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Andy Ngo’s list, given by Coel, is lengthy, and these are just recent incidents relating to racism, antisemitism, Donald Trump. It’s quite a disconcerting list that will get longer.

    I smelled a rat from the get-go but, like McWhorter, “my skepticism made me feel a little guilty,” because, what if it were true? It was interesting to find that not a few African Americans didn’t believe him. There are several discourses by black men on youtube that admirably and with great outrage and humor deconstruct the hoax. Among the many inconsistencies they commented on, one observed that no black person who had a noose put around his neck let it stay there for 45 minutes, and if he was stomped on, why did he have only two scratches on his face? Here’s one video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMIdcvF5RM4. by Brandon Tatum, posted on Feb. 16th. Another with a former rapper, Joe Budden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m9pb61SuKg – Budden appears about 1:30 min. They are outraged.

    I can’t but be reminded of a hoax attack that was perpetrated in the late 1980s by Morton Downey, Jr., a deranged Irish-American talk show host. He claimed that he was attacked in a bathroom by neo-Nazis, who put a swastika on his forehead and tried to shave his head http://www.bogushatecrimes.com/89_MortonDowneySwastika.php. The hoax was revealed when someone observed that the swastika was backwards, as if whoever had done it had looked in the mirror while drawing it. Here’s an Irish caucasian claiming he was the victim of an antisemitic attack perpetrated by neo-Nazi skinheads, who wanted to shave his head?!! It’s a wonder “they” didn’t try to circumcise him, too. You’d think they might have pelted him with potatoes.

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      It had “hoax” written on it right from the beginning. In Smollett’s first media interview, he just didn’t have the demeanor of a victim and didn’t seem to use the right words. It raised a red flag like those in interviews with the boyfriend of an abducted wife or girlfriend we seem to see on TV so often these days. A week later it turns out that the boyfriend/husband was the murderer. Though I suppose it is a somewhat grisly amusement, when I see those red flags I turn to my wife and register my expectations of how it is going to turn out.

      • randallschenck
        Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        Yes and this murdering boy friend, apparently wanted custody of the one year old child. So he thought a baseball bat to the head was a way to get it.

        • Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that’s the one I was thinking of too but there have been several others. I wonder if the news media selects these incidents for their fishiness? After all, in a country as large as the US, there must be lots of abductions, murders, etc. on any given day. The media don’t mention the fishiness, of course, but they seem to almost present them with a wink and a nudge.

  12. Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Two words: due process.

  13. Jenny Haniver
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Forgot to fill out the template so resend.

    I didn’t see your comment before posting mine. You beat me to the punch. I don’t think he ever admitted it.

  14. Robert Ryder
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I found it suspicious from the first that he wouldn’t turn over his phone to the police, claiming he was protecting the privacy of his contacts. Wouldn’t you do anything to catch the villains who carried out such an awful attack? Protecting your contacts seems secondary. But I still hoped that he was telling the truth because I knew the fallout would be great if it turned out to be a hoax. It’s very sad, it bolsters those who deny that we have any issues with racism, and it increases political division even more. Ugh.

  15. Historian
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    If and until more evidence emerges, I would write off this incident as the psychological anomaly of a particular individual. I would not draw any broad messages from what happened.

    • Historian
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      The NYT states the following:

      “Jussie Smollett, upset by his salary and seeking publicity, staged a fake assault on himself a week after writing himself a threatening letter, the Chicago police said Thursday after the “Empire” actor surrendered to face a charge of filing a false police report.”

      Pundits will try to create some larger meaning from this incident when there isn’t any. They made the mistake of opining on an incident when almost nothing was known about it.

      If anything needs further investigation, it is the Chicago Police Department. If any person other than a celebrity reported an alleged attack, police would not spend a tenth of the time on it. The broader message is that celebrities have perks granted by governmental agencies not afforded to ordinary citizens.

      • Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. The Chicago PD has to worry about its image in the media just like virtually every other organization. As usual, it starts with the attention given to celebrities, however minor, by the public and the media seeking ratings.

        • randallschenck
          Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          I have to agree on this one. The police likely felt pressure on this one because it quickly became political. They knew parts of the story were flawed and looked funny but that is not proof by itself. They still had to play it out. Now either the guy will plead out or go to trial.

          At least the mass murder the other day had a moral to it. Don’t go firing someone at work unless you are sure they are not packing.

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      There have also been Muslim women and girls giving false reports about being attacked to have their hijabs removed. I think one of these cases was discussed on WEIT.

    • rustybrown
      Posted February 23, 2019 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Historian, How you can read this post, the McWhorter article, and live in 2019 America and yet dismiss this incident as a “psychological anomaly of a particular individual” is absolutely unbelievable to me.

  16. Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Is his career really ruined? He will definitely carry some embarrassment for a while, but this scandal undoubtedly raises his visibility. Maybe all publicity is good publicity.

    • Peter Bracken
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      No. He’s done.

    • Robert Ryder
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Hard to say. I thought Mel Gibson was done after beating up his girlfriend. Go figure.

      • Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        I thought Trump was done after the pussy grab. I thought Northam was done after the blackface. I am done with saying people are done.

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      His career may well be ruined if he goes to jail for any length of time. I don’t know his work so my opinion is probably not worth much but I get the impression he’s a very minor celebrity, which is based on a single role that he will no longer be able to play. Furthermore, there are plenty of other actors willing to fill roles for which he might otherwise be considered. A producer seeking to fill such roles will probably look elsewhere for an actor with less baggage and risk.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      All publicity is good publicity except for really, really bad publicity (of what used to be called the “dead girl/live boy” sort). Whether l’affaire Smollett crosses that line has yet to be seen.

    • Taz
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Maybe he’ll team up with Rosanne Barr for a new version of “The Odd Couple”.

    • rustybrown
      Posted February 23, 2019 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      He is not done. He’ll have some immediate consequences but will have a successful comeback. His bizarre hate hoax will be reframed as a side effect of living in the hateful age of Trump.

  17. Anonymous
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    However, Titania McGrath provides another view of l’affaire Smollet and instructs us in the necessity of believing him https://twitter.com/TitaniaMcGrath/status/1098306788439588865

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      She has someone who took the bait. Although I wonder if the ‘fish’ is just trolling for fun.

  18. Jenny Haniver
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Template oversight again.

    However, Titania McGrath provides another view of l’affaire Smollet and instructs us in the necessity of believing him https://twitter.com/TitaniaMcGrath/status/1098306788439588865

  19. Curtis
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    The more spectacular the accusation, the less likely it is to be true (Jackie at UVa, Duke lacrosse case, Julie Swetnick, Tawana Brawley, etc.) The only major exception that I can think of is Matthew Shepard.

    When I hear about one these cases my initial reaction is disgust but then I question the reporting and look for more information.

    To be honest, I had doubts about the veracity about the attack on Maajid Nawaz. It seemed fishy. At this point, I think it probably happened but I am not sure.

    • Adam M.
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      According to ABC’s 20/20, the Matthew Shepard murder may not have been a simple case of anti-gay hatred. But I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

      • Posted February 21, 2019 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        I have read the same, in numerous sources.

  20. Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Why is this not more a case of Baron von Munchausen syndrome by proxy?
    It could be that this emerges along lines that are demarcated by how we see our roles; and how tragic it is when our role is marred by something awful happening.
    A mother poisons her child in order bask in the resulting sympathy, since it is so tragic that a mother should be up against possibly losing her child.
    And we now have a case where a gay black man claims to have been a victim of homophobic and racist violence.

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      However, unlike the mother, Smollett didn’t harm anybody.

      • Posted February 21, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know enough about the condition as it is recognized, but I am supposing it does not need to be confined to a particular kind of errant behavior (mothers hurting children).
        My notion (and it is a notion) is that the syndrome could manifest in whatever fits the mold for that person that enwraps them in an aura of suffering for their identity.
        For mothers with very traditional views about motherhood: the fabricated incident would surround their children.
        For Jews, especially in the years surrounding Nazi Germany: fabricate an incident having to do with Nazis (& there is at least one story in comments above of this sort).
        I believe there are also stories of women fabricating a rape story, and there was no rapist.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Let some forensic psychiatrist come to the rescue, and I ain’t one, but I’d venture to say that it would be a case of Muhchausen’s syndrome, period. He orchestrated the event, enlisted people to hurt him, and even rehearsed it. He was the one who claimed to be the victim, not someone else. And indeed, he did hurt himself, quite badly, just not in the way he had planned.

  21. Historian
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    The tragedy of the Smollett incident is that it provides fodder to the right wing that uses an anecdote as to somehow try to prove that hate crimes are a minor problem. One may not like the classification of certain crimes as hate crimes, but the FBI uses it and clearly the overwhelming majority of reported hate crimes are real. Another negative result of this story is that while emphasizing this story, the right wing has not shown an equivalent outrage at the arrest of the far right wing Coast Guard officer, who was planning the mass murder of Democrats and certain liberal TV hosts. This fellow had a tremendous cache of weapons. For the sake of consistency, shouldn’t the right wing use this incident to call for gun control? Would they even concede that the planned attack was even a hate crime? For the right wing this is an anecdote to buried as quickly as possible.

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I wish they vet coast guards better.

  22. Roo
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Very thoughtful commentary by John McWhorter. I agree with commenters above that it’s hard to know if this is one disturbed or just callously opportunistic individual; part of a broader trend in the zeitgeist; or a combination of both (you will have narcissists and unstable histrionic types in every era, of course, but what exactly they’re doing varies by the norms of the time period. Generally never good, but it will at least differ somewhat.)

    Honestly, when it comes to the far Left, it is kind of hard for me to tell what they really mean and what is just theatrics (which maybe is a charitable bias on my part, because when confronted with the far Right, I would rarely if ever go “Aaw, c’mon, I mean, do they really mean that?” Maybe because growing up, I encountered the occasional angry country boy in real life, but in my area there was no real threat that you were going to get beat down by an angry Leftist.) I think I’m one of the last people in the universe to have heard of Donald Glover, for example. But I heard of him recently, and love some of his music. Then I looked him up on Google and saw some of his past statements on race and so on and was like “Really? Does he really think this? Or is he being provocative because he’s an entertainer?”. It’s honestly hard to tell. I feel like that dynamic is so different between Left and Right in this country. If you meet someone on the far Right who’s an open carry survivalist with really xenophobic views, unlikely you will nudge them and go “Hey… be honest… is this part performance art?”. With the Left it’s much more ambiguous.

  23. Marilyn
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    According to a story I just read, Chicago Police Supt Eddie Johnson said “Smollett paid 2 men $3,500 to fake the attack in order to further his career and make more money”

    • Posted February 21, 2019 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      I just heard on CBS Radio that the police have a check(s) to the brothers signed by Smollett.

      • Posted February 21, 2019 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Checks!? Methinks Jussie is not the brightest bulb on the tree.

        • Posted February 21, 2019 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

          That’s the one solid conclusion coming out of this episode.

  24. Posted February 21, 2019 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I knew right away it was a hoax, cuz nobody actually says “MAGA country’.

  25. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    The Donald tweeted today to take Smollett to task for disparaging MAGA — though not a peep from him about the far right-wing wacko Coast Guardsman who was busted for stockpiling weapons with which to take out Trump’s enemies in congress and the media.

  26. eric
    Posted February 21, 2019 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit late to the party, but…

    Still, the question remains: why did Smollett do this?

    It now appears that he did it because he was dissatisfied with the salary Empire was paying him, and this was an attempt to drum up sympathy in order to improve his visibility as an actor.

    Smollett is a figure to be pitied,

    I think the police are right to be angry at him. He cost many hours of labor and was willing to make Chicago seem less safe than it is, for a bigger paycheck. It’s reprehensible, not pitiful. At least IMO.

    and, given that his career is ruined, I don’t see why (if he’s found guilty) he needs to spend much time in jail, except perhaps a modicum of incarceration to deter others from the same kind of behavior.

    I agree. I’d even be fine with community service to make up for the labor hours he cost the police force. He poses no threat of violence or theft and very little threat of recidivism because of the ‘cry wolf’ effect. And from what understand about the most recent findings on crime and punishment, it’s increasing/a high chance of getting caught that reduced incidents of crime, not harshness of punishment. So probably the best way to deter other behavior like this is broadly publish the fact that they caught him in less than a week.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 22, 2019 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Tragic.

    But the silver lining seen is some public comfort.

    The lesson, as everybody has already drawn, is to be skeptical of claims like this, and not bruit about the mantra “believe the victim.”

    It should rather be “believe the victimizer”:

    The reason to tend to believe individual victims instead of remaining neutral until further proof is that there is a series of (ideally unrelated) victim reports.

  28. rustybrown
    Posted February 23, 2019 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    In the wake of the Smollett and Covington hoaxes, it would be a fine time for the media and the left to self-analyze and ask themselves why they were so susceptible to being duped by circumspect falsehoods. Why they were so eager to embrace them.

    Sadly, very little of this is occurring.

    • Posted February 24, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      I don’t see any truth to the media being duped.

      First, the Covington affair was not a hoax. More information came forth later that made the story more complex than it first appeared. That’s not at all unusual for a news story. The MAGA kid was clearly disrespectful and that has not changed in the face of updates. Some on social media overreacted but that’s nothing new. There was no hoax.

      The main issue is how the media should report things. They, like the rest of us, respond to what is known about an event. Typically, what is known about an event changes over time and, sometimes, the judgement of history changes too. So what should people and the media do? Should they say nothing until the whole truth is discovered? How would that work? When would that be exactly? Both the media and people in general will react to the news. I don’t see how it can be any other way.

      That is not to say that some overreact. Obviously calling for the Covington boy to be sent to jail is an overreaction. I don’t remember the MSM media calling for that.

      The Smollett case is the much more interesting one. When the incident first occurred, it had to be taken at face value. When someone reports a crime, they have to be taken seriously. This does not mean that we have to believe what they are saying. It does mean that the media should report it and the police must investigate. That is exactly what happened. In a small percentage of cases, further investigation shows that the crime didn’t happen and the “victim” has committed a hoax. The MSM reports that and the criminal justice system prosecutes the individual for filing a false report. This is what is happening now. Everything worked as it should.

      • rustybrown
        Posted February 24, 2019 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        I completely disagree. Take the Covington mess, which wasn’t really a hoax but an embarrassing widespread rush to judgement by mainstream news outlets, none of it giving the benefit of the doubt to the MAGA kids. This was all based on a brief edited video clip that provided very little information. Professional journalists should seek to get both sides of an issue before jumping to conclusions and pushing an editorial narrative. That didn’t happen here.

        Also, the kids were not being disrespectful, at least not in any overt way. You could argue the tomahawk gesture to Phillips’ beat was disrespectful but remember these were fifteen and sixteen year old kids trying to deal with adults getting in their personal space while banging a drum in their face. They rolled with it, and the tomahawk chop is not seen as offensive in many venues.

        There’s been a lot of debunking codas to this incident; I find the following one to be concise and convincing. It’s startling how this reveals that the truth of the matter turns out to be the exact opposite of the initial narrative that was put forth.



        ”The Smollett case is the much more interesting one. When the incident first occurred, it had to be taken at face value. When someone reports a crime, they have to be taken seriously.

        No. The media should not take things at face value. They should be skeptical until more facts are known. They should investigate. They should use use the term “alleged”.

        The lefty media disgraced themselves in both of these incidents, as did the Democrat presidential hopefuls.

        • Posted February 25, 2019 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          So you are suggesting the MSM should have said “alleged disrespect” with regard to the kid in the Covington episode? That would make you happy? How about in the Smollett episode? Should they have said Smollett was “allegedly attacked”? So silly.

          • rustybrown
            Posted February 25, 2019 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

            So you think the standard journalistic practice (at least it used to be) of using the term “alleged” until facts are better known is silly. Got it.

            • Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

              Nothing wrong with “alleged” per se but it works better when applied to a perpetrator. In the two cases we’re talking about here, there were no perpetrators to be “alleged”. That was my point.

              • rustybrown
                Posted February 25, 2019 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                It’s standard journalistic procedure to use “alleged” for incidents as well as individuals until something is proven.


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