Sunday, February 17, 2019
When TMZ first reported that actor Jussie Smollett was the victim of a vicious hate crime, it sounded almost impossible to believe: at 2 AM one sub-zero night in late January, two masked men recognized the "Empire's" gay black actor, hurled racist & homophobic slurs at him, beat him to the point of breaking his ribs, doused him with bleach, tied a noose around his neck, before pronouncing "This is MAGA Country!" and fleeing.
Making such astonishing claims, the national media owed it to their viewers to give this story the circumspect coverage responsible journalism demands. Instead the major media used their platform to uncritically parrot TMZ's original report, even adding new fake details along the way (such as that the attackers wore "Make America Great Again" hats). This vicious hate crime, they said, painted a disturbing picture of America in 2019.
As Smollett's claims have unraveled over the intervening weeks, it's worth revisiting how the story was originally covered.
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