UPDATE, 7:44 p.m. Eastern: ABC News is reporting that police conducted a follow-up interview with Smollett and that he informed them the alleged attackers did use the “this is MAGA country” phrase. Turns out, the Daily Beast stealth-edited their post to remove the excerpt mentioned in the original version of this post to remove a passage about having spoken to Chicago Police in which they stated they had no evidence of that phrase being used. Thus far, the portion about MAGA hats has not been proven true.
The original post is below.
Empire star Jesse Smollett was brutally attacked early Tuesday morning in Chicago in what police have suggested could be deemed a hate crime due to Smollett being gay and the assailants allegedly hurling homophobic and racist slurs.
However, one such claim that has not yet been substantiated was the notion that the alleged perpetrators either wore Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats or shouted “this is MAGA country” to Smollett as he was beaten, doused in bleach, and had a noose tied around his neck. Despite that, the 1:00 p.m. Eastern edition of MSNBC Live mentioned it anyway.
Co-hosts Stephanie Ruhle appropriately called it a “horrible” story and “terrible attack” “to report.” National correspondent Miguel Almaguer agreed, noting the attack’s “disturbing” nature, but then provided the MAGA hat detail about the alleged perpetrators even though he wasn’t sure of its validity.
“Certainly, there are many indications of a hate crime here. They are looking for two suspects who were apparently wearing Make America Great Again hats, although that has not yet been officially confirmed. There's been no detail description on the suspects,” Almaguer stated.
Almaguer reiterated that Smollett “is in good and stable condition” but, unfortunately, he didn’t have a description at that hour to share with viewers.
He then added: “So, one thing investigators will likely look at is any surveillance video in the area. They have not released any leads on that so far, but clearly, multiple investigators from several different departments at Chicago PD are all working on this.”
To Ruhle’s credit, she made clear to viewers before moving on with the segment to NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos: “I’m just looking at our notes. I don't know that NBC has confirmed that they were specifically wearing those hats. I believe it's been reported. I don't believe that NBC's been able to confirm that detail.”
To also give an attaboy to CNN, they have not mentioned either claim about the suspects in their on-air segments.
TMZ originally promoted the latter claim, but The Daily Beast was able to speak with Chicago Police and were informed that law enforcement has yet to find evidence to substantiate it:
A Chicago Police spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the attackers’ genders are unknown, and that their faces and hands had been covered. TMZ reported that the attackers shouted “This is MAGA country,” but police told the Beast, “There is no report of that being said.”
Later that hour, AV Club noted that TMZ had updated their account of the Smollett attack, insisting that the two men donned ski masks instead of MAGA hats.
Either one of those claims could turn out to be true, but police haven’t been able to confirm that, so perhaps the press should choose their words carefully. But then again, that would require the media to change.
After both the BuzzFeed and Covington stories, one would think news outlets would adapt or at least exercise more caution. As National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke wrote last week, it’s doubtful the press will ever learn that lesson.
To see the relevant transcript from January 29's MSNBC Live with Velshi & Ruhle, click “expand.”
MSNBC Live with Velshi & Ruhle
January 29, 2019
1:02 p.m. Eastern
ALI VELSHI: We've got some breaking news. Actor and musician Jesse Smollett from the hit show Empire was attacked and beaten early this morning in Chicago and police say it could be a hate crime.
STEPHANIE RUHLE: Investigators say it all started when two individuals yelled out racial and homophobic slurs. They began to beat him up and then poured a chemical substance on to his body, but it gets worse. Investigators say one of the offenders wrapped a rope around Smollett's neck.
VELSHI: Back in 2016, Smollett spoke openly about being gay in Hollywood, telling Attitude magazine: “I get tired of the idea of someone telling me what my truth is. I've said from the beginning of my journey, I do not hide who I am. I love who I love. No one is going to tell me that somehow that is going to be my disability. I am told so many times I should not walk truly in my blackness. That I should not walk truly in my sexuality, I should not walk truly in who I am. I say thanks but no thanks f*** you and good-bye. I honestly think that my being — me be myself has actually helped my career move forward.”
RUHLE: This is horrible to report. NBC's Miguel Almaguer is live in Los Angeles and NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos join us live. Miguel, walk us through this. What else do we know about the circumstances of this terrible attack?
MIGUEL ALMAGUER: A disturbing attack. Chicago police have not released details. They say they are investigating this as a possible hate crime. Certainly, there are many indications of a hate crime here. They are looking for two suspects who were apparently wearing Make America Great Again hats, although that has not yet been officially confirmed. There's been no detail description on the suspects. This, again, happened around 2:00 a.m. in downtown Chicago. Investigators say the victim was able to walk himself to a local hospital where we are told he is in good and stable condition today, but again, a very disturbing attack, with very few details about these two assailants who also apparently yelled out homophobic and racist slurs to him before they attacked him physically and then tied that noose around his neck before leaving.
VELSHI: What do we know about the — the suspect?
ALMAGUER: Very little. Not even a description has been released other than they were two white males. We don't know their heights. We don’t know their builds. That's all information police are working on. Of course this did happen in the downtown Chicago area. So, one thing investigators will likely look at is any surveillance video in the area. They have not released any leads on that so far, but clearly multiple investigators from several different departments at Chicago PD are all working on this.
RUHLE: I’m just looking at our notes. I don't know that NBC has confirmed that they were specifically wearing those hats. I believe it's been reported. I don't believe that NBC's been able to confirm that detail. Danny, this is a horrible story. No matter what kind of attack or crime it was, but what do prosecutors need to prove to categorize this as a hate crime?
DANNY CEVALLOS: When a person commits a crime in Illinois because of their actual or perceived race and a list of other things such as religion, they commit the crime of hate crimes and every state has different hate crime statutes. Some don't really have them at all, but the challenge with hate crimes is proving something that, in our criminal code, we don't normally have. Prosecutors are not normally required to prove motive. Motive is ordinarily not part of a crime. The law doesn't care why you rob the bank. They care that you rob the bank, but hate crimes are a little different in that they do require a showing of motive that an attack of some kind was motivated by a hatred or animus against someone's race and that's what makes them complex and in most cases, prosecutors are better off charging a more serious crime like in Illinois, you have crimes like aggravated battery or even one called heinous battery, which requires the use of, for example, a caustic or flammable substance. It's the most serious kind of felony short of murder in Illinois.
VELSHI: And to your point that I think you just made, while some people find it interesting a hate crime and feels — it feels more just, it's not necessarily the case. The outcome is different, right? They can charge him with a violent — they can charge these perpetrators with a violent crime that will have a result
VELSHI: — that is as strong, if not stronger, than charging him with a crime?
CEVALLOS: Hate crimes are a recent creation. The criminal code has always punished batter, aggravated battery, any kind of attack that causes serious bodily harm is always going to be in the highest strata of battery or assault charges, depending on what state you're in. So the recent addition of hate crimes allows prosecutors where they think they have the evidence to punish for that additional racial animus.
VELSHI: Got it.
CEVALLOS: But if they can't make that proof, which can be difficult to meet that burden, they can always fall back on assault, aggravated assault and even murder, if the facts support it.
VELSHI: Got it.
RUHLE: Miguel, you may have already told us, but I'm so shaken by this story I forgot. I know he walked himself to the hospital. Do we know how he is now?
ALMAGUER: The family has reportedly said that he is in stable condition. NBC News did speak to a member of his family. They say he is recovering and he will eventually be okay, but of course, this was a very heinous attack. There will be several issues he'll have to deal with in the coming days, but they say his spirits are fairly high, considering what he's been through.
VELSHI: What a remarkable story. Guys, thanks very much. Miguel, you’ll stay on this. Miguel Almaguer and Dan Cervallos, thank you guys.
RUHLE: Ali, this is a horrible story.