The sad case of actor Jussie Smollett and his now-proven-false claims that he was viciously attacked by racist Trump supporters is not an isolated case.
But the media holds a great deal of blame for reporting initial instances and claims without using normal journalistic practices and standards that would have protected against misreporting.
Lessons should have been taken from numerous cases of high-profile wrongly-accused, whether it’s Richard Jewell falsely blamed (and later cleared) in the Atlanta Olympic bombings, Officer Darren Wilson falsely blamed (and later cleared by the Obama Justice Dept.) in the shooting of Michael Brown (the Justice Dept. concluded the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” claims were fabricated), Wen Ho Lee accused (but never charged and then prevailing in libel lawsuits against media) in the Chinese theft of our most sensitive nuclear secrets, Kyle Rittenhouse accused (but later cleared) of wrongful shootings of his attackers during a riot, the Covington Catholic kids falsely portrayed as being aggressive against a Native American protester, the University of Virginia frat brothers falsely accused of sexual abuse in a Rolling Stone article, Steven Hatfill falsely accused by the FBI in anthrax attacks, Trump and campaign associate Carter Page as supposed Russian spies, well– the list goes on. You can think of others.
If only the media were to follow normal standards and practices when these cases arise (reporting fairly, attributing claims, reporting both sides of a story), then we wouldn’t ultimately shoulder so much of the blame for the out-of-control false narratives that derive from the news reports.
When it. are to Smollett’s accusations, some media outlets responsibly reported and properly attributed allegations. But others did not. Some unskeptically furthered the narrative that Smollett, who is black, was attacked by Trump-supporting racists who put a noose around Smollett’s neck, shouted racial slurs, told him it’s “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) country, and poured bleach on him. The New York Times deserves special mention here for adding a biased non sequitur in its early reporting that treated skepticism of Smollett’s story as if it were unfounded, and fit in a dig at President Trump’s son.
New York Times reporting on the Smollett claims
But the lack of progress in the investigation has fueled speculation about whether the report was exaggerated. The president?s son Donald Trump Jr., who is known to disseminate conspiracy theories on his Twitter feed, retweeted an article this week about Smollett declining to turn over his cellphone to the police.
Here are but a few of the other cases whereby Trump opponents staged fake attacks or made false claims. The initial accusations were widely reported; the follow ups were not so widely reported.