The following is a news analysis.
Updated March 12
Actor Jussie Smollett has reportedly started serving his relatively brief jail term for faking a racist hate crime on himself.
The sad case and his now-proven-to-be-false claims that he was viciously attacked by racist Trump supporters is not an isolated incident.
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. They became, in essence, a party to the racist accusations against white people.
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 came to Smollett's accusations, some media outlets responsibly reported and properly attributed allegations. But others did not. Instead, some unskeptically furthered the false and racist narrative that Smollett, who is black, was attacked by white, 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, racist claims. The initial accusations were widely reported; the follow ups were not so widely reported.
- A week before Trump was elected, Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Mississippi was torched and the words "Vote Trump" found painted on the outside. The mayor condemned the incident as a hate crime and stated it was "an attack on the black church and the black community." However, police later arrested a black church member for the arson. They say the man staged the fire to look like an attack by Trump supporters. Even today, some of the corrected news reports retain headlines seeming to blame Trump.
- The day after Trump was elected, there was an incident at Elon University in North Carolina that made national news. Hispanic students found a "hateful note" written on a classroom whiteboard reading, "Bye Bye Latinos." After the story made news, it was learned that the message was written by "a Latino student who was upset about the results of the election."
- Also the day after Trump was elected, a gay man, reportedly a filmmaker, claimed that homophobic Trump supporters smashed his face with a bottle outside a bar in Santa Monica, Calif. A bloody photo was posted on Twitter, and he was said to have been treated at a local hospital. Police investigated the media reports. They said no complaint was ever filed, there was no evidence of a crime, and a check of local hospitals showed no victim in such an incident.
- The week after Trump's election, a Muslim student at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, claimed Trump supporters pulled off her head covering, and assaulted and robbed her. She later admitted fabricatingthe story.
- A month after Trump's election, a Muslim-American woman claimed Trump supporters tried to steal her headwear and harassed her on the New York City subway. She ultimately was arrested after confessing she made up the whole story.
- On June 28, 2018, after a newsroom shooting, a newspaper reporter falsely tweeted that the shooter "dropped his [Trump Make America Great Again] hat on newsroom floor before opening fire."
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