WashPost’s Capehart: Smollett Story Fit ‘Narrative’ of Trump ‘Menace’

Appearing on MSNBC Live With Hallie Jackson Monday morning, Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart lamented that actor Jussie Smollett’s claim of being assaulted by Trump supporters was falling apart. The liberal journalist then attempted to blame the “atmosphere of menace” supposedly created by the President to explain why so many in the media, including himself, believed the story.

“Well, I don’t know what to make of all this. Because when the news came out, a lot of people, myself included, were horrified,” Capehart began. He then justified the rush to judgement by arguing that Smollett’s account “fit in with a narrative” about the Trump era:

 

 

Just the circumstances and the way he told the story, and what he said happened to him sort of fit in with a narrative – not a narrative, but a reality for a lot of people in this country since President Trump was inaugurated. That there is an atmosphere of menace and an atmosphere of hate around the country that made it possible for people to either readily believe or want to believe Jussie Smollett.

Capehart used identical language during a February 1 appearance on NPR’s 1A talk show to discuss the alleged attack and lecture the administration: “The fact that it [was] repeatedly said ‘This is MAGA country’ adds to sort of the atmosphere of menace that African Americans in particular and people of color in general have felt since the advent of the Trump administration, given the rhetoric from the campaign and out of the administration.”

On MSNBC on Monday, Capehart admitted that “there were people who immediately thought something was fishy.” He certainly wasn’t one of them, but cited how his “colleague at The Washington Post, Nana Efua Mumford wrote a piece where she likened his retelling of the story to an episode of Empire, it was so over the top.”

Despite that skepticism, Mumford told readers how much she wished to be wrong and for the story to be true. Anchor Hallie Jackson highlighted a line from the article: “If Smollett’s story is found to be untrue, it will cause irreparable damage to the communities most affected. The incident would be touted as proof that there is a leftist conspiracy to cast Trump supporters as violent, murderous racists. It would be the very embodiment of ‘fake news.’”

Capehart followed up: “And that here, is the bigger issue. There is real pain in this country, there is real fear in this country. And if it turns out that Smollett did indeed – orchestrated this attack, paid the attackers, then he’s done infinitely more damage to the African-American community, people of color....The LGBTQ community.”

The Post writer angrily concluded: “All for what? Reportedly to save his own role on the show? Was it worth it? That’s a question I would like to ask Jussie Smollett if, indeed, it’s proven that he orchestrated this attack.”

It’s interesting that media anger about the Smollett case seems to be less about a false story being reported as fact, but more that the “narrative” advanced by the claim has been damaged.

Here is a transcript of the February 18 exchange:

10:29 AM ET

(...)

HALLIE JACKSON: Let me bring in now MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for the Washington Post. Kelsey Snell and John Allen are back with us as well. So you know, a lot of people I think watched Jussie Smollett go on GMA last week and was extremely emotional and was angry and sort of talked about that. And talked at length about what happened. And now here we are this morning and police are saying they want to bring him back in for questions about all of this. What do you make of it?

JONATHAN CAPEHART [WASHINGTON POST]: Well, I don’t know what to make of all this. Because when the news came out, a lot of people, myself included, were horrified.

JACKSON: Absolutely.

CAPEHART: Just the circumstances and the way he told the story, and what he said happened to him sort of fit in with a narrative – not a narrative, but a reality for a lot of people in this country since President Trump was inaugurated. That there is an atmosphere of menace and an atmosphere of hate around the country that made it possible for people to either readily believe or want to believe Jussie Smollett.

But on the other hand, at the same time, there were people who immediately thought something was fishy.

JACKSON: Red flags. They thought there were red flags in this account and what’s going on here.  

CAPEHART: Right. And my colleague at The Washington Post, Nana Efua Mumford wrote a piece where she likened his retelling of the story to an episode of Empire, it was so over the top. January, middle of the night, 2:30 in the morning, 10 degrees. And they recognized him on the street?

JACKSON: And we pulled a piece of that, actually, from that op/ed that was written about –  headlined, “I doubted Jussie Smollett. It breaks my heart that I might be right.” And she writes, “If Smollett’s story is found to be untrue, it will cause irreparable damage to the communities most affected. The incident would be touted as proof that there is a leftist conspiracy to cast Trump supporters as violent, murderous racists. It would be the very embodiment of ‘fake news.’”

CAPEHART: Right. And that here, is the bigger issue. There is real pain in this country, there is real fear in this country. And if it turns out that Smollett did indeed – orchestrated this attack, paid the attackers, then he’s done infinitely more damage to the African-American community, people of color.

JACKSON: The LGBTQ community.

CAPEHART: The LGBTQ community. All for what? Reportedly to save his own role on the show? Was it worth it? That’s a question I would like to ask Jussie Smollett if, indeed, it’s proven that he orchestrated this attack.

(...)

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