Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent for CNN, was baffled. “You know, we saw a lot of politicians and Hollywood celebrities and activists rally around Jussie Smollett’s side as soon as he made these accusations several weeks ago,” he said on Saturday night after his own network, among others, had begun reporting that Chicago police believed Jussie Smollett had staged a fake hate-crime attack against himself. Stelter continued,“And there are good reasons why they believed him. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would think of orchestrating something like this.”
Ana Cabrera, CNN anchor, was equally flummoxed Saturday night: “The big question, then, is why?” she asked. “Why he would make something like this up?”
CNN’s senior entertainment reporter Lisa France was comparably engulfed by confusion. “If he actually did this, why in the world would he do this?” she asked. “Why? That’s what everyone wants to know.”
A bit later, Stelter chimed in again: “This is about why he might — and, so far, we don’t know. But why he might have made this up. It just boggles the mind.”
It boggles the mind! One struggles in vain to think of another profession in which someone could evince or affect as much incompetence as Stelter and Co. and expect to remain employed.
Dr. Brian Stelter, in a Mexico City ER in 1940: “Mr. Trotsky, I’ve run all of the tests and I just don’t understand why you say your head hurts.” Leon Trotsky: “I have an ice axe sticking out of my skull.” Stelter in 1974 Washington: “I don’t see how there could be a Watergate cover-up since all of the president’s men have assured me they’ve done nothing wrong.” Stelter is the guy who can’t figure out why robbers keep turning up at banks.
Stelter was a toddler when a black teen named Tawana Brawley made up a story about six white men raping her, smearing her with feces, scrawling “KKK” and “n****r” on her torso with charcoal, and leaving her in a trash bag. He has lived nearly his entire life in the era of hate-crime hoaxes. He surely remembers the Duke-lacrosse gang-rape hoax of 2006, the University of Virginia gang-rape hoax of 2014, the incident just after Trump’s election when a woman on the New York City subway claimed drunken white men had ripped off her hijab. There are lots of other examples. Hey, do you remember as far back as January, when an Indian man tried to portray himself as the victim of a hateful mob of Trump-backing teenage goons? George Will once wrote of campuses, “When they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.” When the media can be relied upon to credit hysterics and axe-grinders the way campus administrators do, America effectively becomes a vast campus.
The reasons for Smollett’s hoax didn’t boggle anyone’s mind, assuming that the mind in question was functioning above the level of someone who eats a bowl of lead-paint chips for breakfast. In America, victimhood is currency. It is easily converted into actual currency, and if Smollett had gotten away with his hoax, he had every reason to expect that his vastly increased celebrity would have led to the salary bump Chicago police said he wanted from his show Empire.
If Stelter was awake in this country in the days following January 29, he noticed what Smollett gained after the phony attack: Nationwide attention. Outpourings of sympathy. Messages of support from the president and leading presidential candidates. Heartfelt encouragement from activist groups and high-ranking celebrities and also Ellen Page. Wall-to-wall coverage on TMZ. A coveted long segment on Good Morning America. For two and a half weeks, the previously obscure performer was the most talked-about actor in America, and this during Oscar season. (Sorry, Christian Bale and Rami Malek.)
As John McWhorter wrote in The Atlantic, Smollett was in search of “victimhood chic,” having “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.” Smollett could “play a prophet out of a sense that playing a singer on television is not as glamorous as getting beaten up by white guys.”
Smollett purchased with his story things of immeasurable value: Attention, sympathy, love. The world’s eyes were upon him when, the weekend after the attack, he gave a tearful, impassioned performance on stage in L.A. “I had to be here tonight, y’all. I couldn’t let those motherf***ers win. I will always stand for love. I will only stand for love.” Sure.
Hey, CNN, you know how when the president of the United States says something you don’t think is true, you say, “Trump says” or “Trump claims” or “Trump alleges”? Do you know you’re allowed to do that with others who say stuff that looks like it’s probably not true? It would be good for you, and good for the country, if you maintained in good working order the B.S. detector of any small-market newspaper’s metro editor and expressed interest in seeing evidence before you started believing wildly implausible tales. Plus CNN would be more amusing, and seem less like a deranged presidential stalker, if it started snark-chyroning people other than Trump. “Small-time actor claims big bias crime (it smells fishy)” would have been fun.
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