News

U.S.

Stelter Blames ‘Celebrity Press’ for ‘Rushing to Judgment’ on Smollett Story

CNN Host and Senior Media Correspondent Brian Stelter speaks on the “Trust, Truth and the Future of Journalism” panel at the Media Literacy Week Kick-off event at the Thomson Reuters building in Manhattan, November 6, 2017. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter on Monday blamed the “celebrity press” and avid Twitter users for uncritically reporting Jussie Smollett’s claim that he was attacked by Trump-supporting bigots before facts emerged that cast doubt on the allegation.

“I think it was mostly in the celebrity press and among activists and among Twitter people. I think it was a really careful reporting by news organizations. But it all gets lumped in together at the end of the day,” Stelter said on CNN’s New Day. 

Stelter offered a similar criticism in his “Reliable Sources” newsletter, arguing that the public should take a more nuanced view of which organizations and individuals comprise “the media” when seeking to hold those who spread false reports accountable.

“Are there mistakes and built-in biases? Definitely. But most journalists are trying their best to report what’s true. This competitive, chaotic world of media contradicts Don Jr.’s imagined world,” Stelter wrote, referring to Donald Trump Jr.’s sweeping criticism of the media for accepting Smollett’s account.

Smollett, who is black and gay, told police that he was attacked after picking up a sandwich in Chicago around 2 a.m. on January 29. In his initial description of the attack, Smollett said two men beat him, poured an unknown chemical on him, and wrapped a noose around his neck. He later told police the attackers yelled “this is MAGA country” while fleeing — only after that detail was reported by TMZ the next day.

Chicago police on Friday questioned two Nigerian brothers, one of whom worked on the show Empire with Smollett, in connection with the attack, and announced that the brothers’ cooperation had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” They are now investigating whether Smollett himself hired the men to carry out a staged attack, as the two brothers claim. Smollett has maintained that he was attacked and did not perpetrate a hoax in statements released by his attorneys.

While TMZ and other “celebrity” outlets led the way in reporting Smollett’s claims uncritically, mainstream outlets, including CNN, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and others accepted Smollett’s version of events and cited it as yet another example of rising homophobia and racism in the Trump era. A number of reporters and editors at outlets including the Postthe Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stoneand Reuters similarly endorsed Smollett’s version of events on their personal Twitter accounts.

After Smollett’s account was widely disseminated by mainstream journalists, earning him the public sympathy of many Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls, Smollett was interviewed on ABC’s Good Morning America by host Robin Roberts last Thursday. During the interview, Roberts omitted the word “alleged” from any mention of the attack, and did not report that Smollett had, at the time of the interview, refused to turn over his complete phone records to Chicago police.

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.

LEARN MORE

Most Popular

Elections

The Democrats Made Two Joe Biden Miscalculations

I think it's safe to say that there are many, many progressive Democrats who are more than a little surprised -- and a lot chagrined -- at Joe Biden's polling dominance. Look at FiveThirtyEight's polling roundup. Aside from a few high and low outliers, he leads the race by a solid 20 points (at least). Even ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More