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What We Can Learn From the Jussie Smollett Hoax

Bryce Dunio ‘22 , Opinion Columnist 

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On the 21st of February, actor Jussie Smollett was arrested for orchestrating his own hate crime. In a complete act of carelessness for true victims of hate crimes, Smollett paid two Nigerian brothers a check of $3,500 to help stage a racially and politically motivated attack according to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. It is also thought that he sent himself a letter depicting a man being shot at with a noose around his neck and was full of white powder, later confirmed to be Tylenol, though the FBI is still investigating.

Smollett’s hoax and the reaction to it show several key issues with current American society that we must learn from. Not only are our media outlets incredibly biased and factually careless when reporting the ‘news,’ but Smollett’s hoax both takes our attention away from actual hate crimes and shows the state of ideological fanaticism in the United States.This story made waves when it first broke earlier this year on January 29th, with media outlets such as Newsweek tweeting “’Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett hospitalized after assault with noose and ‘unknown chemical substance,’” and The Washington Post tweeting “’Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett assaulted in Chicago in potential hate crime.” Several other media outlets conveniently left out the word ‘alleged’ alongside these two examples. This is the first lesson we can take from the Smollett hoax: don’t make conclusions until you have the facts.

The mainstream media as of late has made conclusions without the facts on several occasions, showing a pure disregard for the idea of due process and the assumption of innocence. When the first video of the confrontation between Nathan Phillips and the teens from Covington Catholic was released, The New York Times like many other media outlets published an article with the headline, “Viral Video Shows Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Surrounding Native Elder.” 

Then the nearly two-hour long video was released. It showed how Phillips went out of his way to approach the teens and beat his drum in their faces, all the while the black individuals, part of a group named the “Black Hebrew Israelites,” shouted slurs like “Christ is coming back to kick your cracker asses” at them. Phillips is a textbook pathological liar, but the mainstream media regarded his words as truth. The fact that the kids were straight white, male, and wearing MAGA hats – a simple campaign hat that many fanatically-delusional ideologues view as a modern Klansman hood – probably didn’t help with the media’s assumption of guilt over innocence.

The media’s coverage of the Covington Catholic teens parallels Judge Kavanaugh’s sexual assault allegations in late 2018. Dr. Ford’s allegations were highly contested not only by Kavanaugh and several of his past schoolmates and colleagues, but by Dr. Ford’s own witnesses. Dr. Ford contradicted her own story in several ways, left out crucial bits of information, and had all four of her witnesses deny knowledge of the party she was talking about, resulting in a story that was both uncorroborated and inconsistent.

The facts did not matter, though. The mainstream media and many Democratic senators utterly failed the American people by assuming Dr. Ford’s utmost credibility and Kavanaugh’s undeniable guilt, instead putting him in a position where he had to prove his own innocence – a practice one would expect from an Orwellian novel.

Another lesson we can learn from Smollett’s hoax is for us to focus on objectively true hate crimes. Just a few days ago on February 22nd, 2019, CNN reported that hate crime charges were being filed against a white Florida man who was recorded on Martin Luther King Jr. Day “yelling racial epithets” at a group of protesting African Americans, while wielding a handgun. The man yelled at the protesters, several times using the N-word and other vulgarities on video. The Miami State Attorney Office released the total list of charges, concluding with three counts of aggravated assault with prejudice, one count of improper exhibition of a firearm, and one count of carrying a concealed firearm – all of which are felonies. But, with Jussie Smollett’s fake hate crime garnering all the media attention, there’s a good chance you did not hear about this incident.

Another true hate crime happened in the city of Chicago itself just two years ago, now known as the “2017 Chicago Torture Incident.” In this incident four black individuals livestreamed on Facebook the gruesome physical and mental torture of a white, mentally challenged man they had kidnapped. From cutting his scalp with a knife and beating him relentlessly, the horror ensued while they yelled slurs like “f**k white people” and “f**k Trump.”

Smollett’s attempts to orchestrate a politically and racially motivated hate crime show just how ideologically fanatical US politics have become. Instead of Smollett voicing his complaints of Trump and current race relations through a protest or perhaps a social media campaign, his fanaticism brought him to faking his own attempted lynching to score political points against President Trump and, according to the Chicago Police Department, “dissatisfied with his salary.” 

What does it say about our society, when we are so fanatically indoctrinated in our own ideologies that we are willing to fake a racially-motivated lynching attempt in order to secure a higher salary? I do not know how to answer such a question, but the mere fact that we are asking ourselves it speaks volumes.

If we are to take anything away from Smollett’s hoax, it is that we have to repair the state of race and politics in our great nation. We must learn from Smollett’s radical belief in the ends justifying the means and moderate ourselves accordingly. We must ditch the tribalistic rhetoric that is spewed relentlessly on a daily basis in contemporary American society and instead opt for unification under the American ideals of freedom, liberty and justice for all. Our society was not, is not, and never will be perfect, but we must continue to strive for perfection. The day we condone fanaticism like Jussie’s is the day we sign Lady Liberty’s death warrant.

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3 Responses to “What We Can Learn From the Jussie Smollett Hoax”

  1. Thomas on February 28th, 2019 2:08 pm

    This isn’t even up to date information. It’s now been reported that it’s likely the Chicago Police Department got their information mixed up. This is just lies that Bryce once again spews

  2. James on February 28th, 2019 3:15 pm

    This whole affair boils down to a highly disturbing risk-reward calculation. In order for a young, wealthy, talented, celebrity to take such risks, there must have been a reward out there that was highly desirable yet not attainable through conventional means. What was that?

    Victimhood. When you have the tools of the national media at your disposal, victimhood can be an incredibly valuable commodity. Added to wealth and celebrity, and you’ve really got a durable platform. Thus it comes as no surprise that someone like Jussie Smollett would repeatedly risk his job, reputation, future and even incarceration just to get a taste of it.

    Sadly, most real victims don’t have that access. This travesty is an insult to them all.

  3. Gabriella Corcoran on March 1st, 2019 12:56 pm

    This is still an active investigation that has not been officially resolved. The FBI seems to be confirming that this was in a fact a hate crime, and the Chicago Police is famously biased. Your use of the Kavanaugh case and the MAGA hat wearing teens is not relevant to your discussion of hates crimes, unless you are referring to the famous definition of hate crimes as laid out by Michael Scott (where it’s a hate crime because he hated the experience). The Dickinsonian allows you a lot of leverage because you market your writing as “opinion pieces.” Unfortunately, you profit from the lack of students on this campus that are willing to lend their talents to the school newspaper. Your inflammatory writing means that talented writers that could be a great asset to the Dickinsonian staff (and are willing to do actual research instead of recycle Fox News and CNN articles) don’t want to have anything to do with The Dickinsonian. And you and Shane go to them meetings every week and snatch up the opinion pieces and the cycle continues. You have made it clear that you are not actually interested in reaching across the aisle, and instead use these conversations to try and prove how intelligent you think you are. At the end of the day, it’s better to spend energy trying to make actual positive changes in the world instead of feeding the trolls. The damage you’ve done to your social life and credibility on campus seems punishment enough.

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What We Can Learn From the Jussie Smollett Hoax