What? After Stelter Defends Media, Blow Admits Smollett Could Be an ‘Insane’ ‘Psychopath’

CNN’s New Day provided more tone deafness Monday morning on the part of the establishment media in reaction to reports that actor Jussie Smollett orchestrated and staged an early-morning attack against him last month in Chicago. But there were some surprising takes, most notably New York Times columnist Charles Blow admitting that, if reports are true, that makes Smollett an “insane” “psychopath.”

Co-host Alisyn Camerota went into damage control on behalf of the media in the 7:00 a.m. hour, stating to America’s “hall monitor” Brian Stelter that she recalled how, “in the hours right after this happened, that CNN — that our bosses were advising to pump the brakes a little bit because there were some things already that didn't add up.”

 

 

“I was, frankly, surprised how many people jumped on board to side with Jussie Smollett before there were photos, before there were police statements, before all that stuff,” she added. Way to go, Captain Obvious!

And right on cue, Stelter continued his press tour trying to cover for he and his colleagues (click “expand”):

Lots of parts of this story didn't make sense, but activists, actors, Hollywood celebrities, friends of Smollett, Democratic presidential candidates — they all wanted to sound like they were doing the right thing, saying the right thing, standing up for a victim. There's an inherent tension in this story between wanting and needing to believe victims and yet, knowing that people could take advantage of that, taking advantage of the idea that it's important to believe victims and that tension has been this story for weeks. There was a rush to judgment. I think it was mostly in the celebrity press and among activists and among Twitter people. I think it was really careful reporting by news organizations, but it all gets lumped in together at the end of the day. It all gets lumped in together in the minds of many people[.]

Between articles such as this one by Mediaite’s Caleb Howe, threads by the likes of Cameron Gray, and studies (here and here) published at NewsBusters, the media played a role in elevating Smollett’s version of events and has left the press with egg on their face.

Fill-in co-host John Avlon appropriately mentioned other recent fake hate crimes such as ones at the Air Force Academy and UVA, but he muddied the waters by insisting that we should “take a victim’s word first” plus “due diligence” and pleading to note that there is a “larger context of hate crimes in this country because in 2017, I believe it is, over 7,000 hate crimes in the United States,” which “was up 17 percent compared to 2016.”

Blow eventually condemned Smollett, but it was hampered by the fact that he went out of his way to defend him because, like Blow, Smollett is gay (click “expand”):

[I]f this is true, it was very believable that a gay man who could be gay bashed. If you take the celebrity out of this and if you dig down into your hate crime numbers, it is even more stark among people who are queer in this country. They are more likely to be assaulted, both sexually and not sexually and by everybody, including authorities and they don't have the platform. Many of them are estranged from family. Many of them experience kind of housing insecurity and food insecurity. They just don't have the voice and so, the big concern for me is whether or not it impacts those genuine victims and their ability or their willingness to come forward and say something happened to me....Jussie is very close to the character he plays on television. He is a musician, he is gay. He has — in his personal life he has been involved in some very worthy kind of community actions, including most recently, trying to save a historically black women's college in the south — Bennett College. He does that sort of thing.

Instead of trying to walk and chew gum at the same time, Blow and Stelter didn’t so much criticize Smollett (though the former would) as express concern about the impact this story will have on reporting hate crimes (which is also valid):

BLOW: I think Brian made an important point about, like, the collision of healthy skepticism —

CAMEROTA: Yeah.

BLOW: — with the historical truth that people are not generally believed on the —

STELTER: And when it becomes cynicism and when it becomes an excuse to ignore real crimes and real problems, then that's even worse.

A few moments after Camerota laughably praised ABC’s Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts for having “pressed him on some of” the details in her absurdly soft interview, Blow finally then went ballistic on Smollett (click “expand”):

AVLON: So, by elevating it and making a national metaphor, what is he trying to communicate? If it's all the bottom of a hoax —

BLOW: Let me —

AVLON: Not that you can get inside his head, but he's the one raising this to a national element, which — elevating it to a national conversation, which makes the possibility of it being a hoax that much more devastating.

BLOW: Well listen, if Jussie has done what the Chicago Police say he has done, it's not just that he's an actor, Brian. This is an insane person. This is — this is a psychopath, like, and — and there's nothing in his history that suggests that he's a psychopath.

CAMEROTA: Well, why —

BLOW: That's why it's so hard for everybody — that's why people are waiting, trying to figure out like please go back and interview him Chicago P.D. —

AVLON: Yeah, got to do it.

BLOW: — because we need to understand what's the motive because nothing — I've met him one time. He was the sweetest — it was just in passing at Essence Fest and I was with a girl I went to college with — she's a big fan and he — she had to have a picture. He was the most gracious person and I think that that's the kind of feeling that people have about him. So if you did this, we need to know — like, are you crazy? Like, are you — did you like literally lose it because nothing is adding up about why he would do this?

To see the relevant transcript from CNN’s New Day on February 18, click “expand.”

CNN’s New Day
February 18, 2019
7:31 a.m. Eastern

ALISYN CAMEROTA: Brian, I remember in the hours right after this happened —

BRIAN STELTER: Yeah.

CAMEROTA: — that CNN — that our bosses were advising to pump the brakes a little bit because there were some things already that didn't add up. I was, frankly, surprised how many people jumped on board to side with Jussie Smollett before there were photos, before there were —

STELTER: Right.

CAMEROTA: — police statements, before all that stuff and so, how do you think this all — what was the trajectory of how this went wrong?

STELTER: Yeah, the headline was so sensational and so disturbing. It first came out on TMZ, not only that Smollett said he'd been attacked but that the attacker said “this is MAGA country.” Well, obviously, Chicago at two in the morning is not MAGA country, so that didn't make sense in the first place. Lots of parts of this story didn't make sense, but activists, actors, Hollywood celebrities, friends of Smollett, Democratic presidential candidates — they all wanted to sound like they were doing the right thing, saying the right thing, standing up for a victim. There's an inherent tension in this story between wanting and needing to believe victims and yet, knowing that people could take advantage of that, taking advantage of the idea that it's important to believe victims and that tension has been this story for weeks. There was a rush to judgment. I think it was mostly in the celebrity press and among activists and among Twitter people. I think it was really careful reporting by news organizations, but it all gets lumped in together at the end of the day. It all gets lumped in together in the minds of many people who now look at this and say what went wrong here? And obviously, at the end of the day, what went wrong is that he may have made it up and ultimately, that's his responsibility.

JOHN AVLON: Ultimately, that's right, but, Charles — I mean, it's understandable in a context to take a victim's word at first, but there does need to be due diligence and I want to do two things here. I want to — I want to put this against the larger context of hate crimes in this country because in 2017, I believe it is, over 7,000 hate crimes in the United States. That was up 17 percent compared to 2016. So, it's important to keep that in mind as we confront the possibility that this was a hoax and it's not the only hoax of this kind of nature we've seen. We saw the UVA reporting around what Rolling Stone did. Questions — stories out of the Air Force Academy, St. Olaf College. So this is not undiscovered territory but it raises the question against the backdrop of this being a real problem in the country. What's the psychology of a hate crime hoax? Why would somebody do that because it diminishes the real instances so much?

CHARLES BLOW: Well, every — right. I'm not a psychologist but I'll take a stab at this, though.

AVLON: Sure.

BLOW: I mean, I think that if he did this — and people who do this sort of — I mean, I think you do have to find a villain who your target audience would believe and I think that in this case, if this is true, it was very believable that a gay man who could be gay bashed. If you take the celebrity out of this and if you dig down into your hate crime numbers, it is even more stark among people who are queer in this country.

AVLON: Mmhmm.

BLOW: They are more likely to be assaulted, both sexually and not sexually and by everybody, including authorities and they don't have the platform. Many of them are estranged from family. Many of them experience kind of housing insecurity and food insecurity. They just don't have the voice and so, the big concern for me is whether or not it impacts those genuine victims and their ability or their willingness to come forward and say something happened to me because very often, in cases of assault — sexual and not — there are no witnesses, there is no evidence to preserve and it is a question of character and in this case, people were making a character judgment. Jussie is very close to the character he plays on television. He is a musician, he is gay. He has — in his personal life he has been involved in some very worthy kind of community actions, including most recently, trying to save a historically black women's college in the south — Bennett College. He does that sort of thing. So if people were making a gut-level decision about is this a character who I believe, why would he — the question of motive is still murky.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, for sure. 

STELTER: It's so confusing.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, also the fact that they — that the surveillance cameras haven't picked anything up and that place was lined with surveillance cameras. I mean, there were some things that aroused suspicion right away.

BLOW: Well, that — right. That — I think Brian made an important point about, like, the collision of healthy skepticism —

CAMEROTA: Yeah.

BLOW: — with the historical truth that people are not generally believed on the —

STELTER: And when it becomes cynicism and when it becomes an excuse to ignore real crimes and real problems, then that's even worse.

CAMEROTA: Yeah.

STELTER: This is a mystery still, though. Why would he do this if he did? What is the motive? That remains a mystery and the police say we just need to talk to him.

CAMEROTA: He sat down with Robin —

AVLON: Yeah.

CAMEROTA: — Roberts. I don't remember if it was last week --

STELTER: Yeah, last week. 

CAMEROTA: Last week and he — you know, she pressed him on some of this. So watch this now.

JUSSIE SMOLLETT: Who the (bleep) could make something like this up or add something to it or whatever it may be? I can't — I can't even — I'm an advocate. [SCREEN WIPE] I'm pissed off.

ROBIN ROBERTS: What is it that has you so angry? Is it the attackers? Is it —

SMOLLETT: It's the attackers, but it's also the attacks. [SCREEN WIPE] It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black — I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more — a lot more and that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.

CAMEROTA: It's more uncomfortable to watch it now knowing all —

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: — the questions that the Chicago police have gone public with now.

STELTER: Yeah. I watched that last week viewing him as an activist. I view it now viewing him as an actor and wondering about whether acting is a part of this because it is if he did orchestrate this hoax. You know, these two men who were in custody last week, they’ve cooperated. They’ve provided evidence to the police. So it's now in his court and we do need to hear more of his side of the story. As of Saturday night, his lawyers were saying he is the victim of a hate crime, so he was not changing his tune.

AVLON: That's important to note.

STELTER: Yeah.

AVLON: But, Charles, he also very quickly — even in that interview — is elevating it to an exemplar of a national conversation —

BLOW: Yeah.

AVLON: — saying this is about the ugliness of the national conversation. I'm the victim of that and in that first performance back, I believe in West Hollywood, saying I'm going to come back from this. So, by elevating it and making a national metaphor, what is he trying to communicate? If it's all the bottom of a hoax —

BLOW: Let me —

AVLON: Not that you can get inside his head, but he's the one raising this to a national element, which — elevating it to a national conversation, which makes the possibility of it being a hoax that much more devastating.

BLOW: Well listen, if Jussie has done what the Chicago Police say he has done, it's not just that he's an actor, Brian. This is an insane person. This is — this is a psychopath, like, and — and there's nothing in his history that suggests that he's a psychopath.

CAMEROTA: Well, why —

BLOW: That's why it's so hard for everybody — that's why people are waiting, trying to figure out like please go back and interview him Chicago P.D. —

AVLON: Yeah, got to do it.

BLOW: — because we need to understand what's the motive because nothing — I've met him one time. He was the sweetest — it was just in passing at Essence Fest and I was with a girl I went to college with — she's a big fan and he — she had to have a picture. He was the most gracious person and I think that that's the kind of feeling that people have about him. So if you did this, we need to know — like, are you crazy? Like, are you — did you like literally lose it because nothing is adding up about why he would do this?

AVLON: Well, one thing’s for certain. This story is not over yet.

CAMEROTA: Brian, Charles, thank you both —

STELTER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: — very much.

NBDaily Crime Liberals & Democrats Sexuality Homosexuality CNN New Day Video John Avlon Brian Stelter Alisyn Camerota Charles Blow Jussie Smollett
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