Willie Geist: Media Shouldn’t Have Been ‘Rooting for an Outcome’ With Smollett Story

Updated with more analysis:

Appearing on the 9:00 a.m. ET hour of Thursday’s Today show, Sunday Today anchor Willie Geist warned his media colleagues against “rooting for an outcome” in a story as they discussed actor Jussie Smollett being arrested for filing a false police report about a fictitious assault by Trump supporters.  

 

 

“I think it’s a good lesson for a lot of people, including people in our business, about not rooting for an outcome,” Geist advised. “You see a story, some people hope it’s true, and they dive in on it before we know anything about it,” he added. The host even recalled being attacked by liberals on social media for his cautious reporting on the now-disproved incident:

I was – we were talking earlier this morning – on Sunday Today, when this story came out, I said in a script that “Jussie Smollett claims to have been attacked” and I was attacked online. “How dare you say ‘claims,’ how dare you not take him at his word.”

He lectured viewers: “Our job is not to take people at their word, it’s to follow the facts and find out what happened.”

Some of Geist’s remarks may have been directed at fellow Today co-host Sheinelle Jones, who led off the panel discussion by bemoaning the unraveling of Smollett’s hoax:

This just breaks my heart. It breaks my heart. It breaks my heart. The night it happened....I didn’t realize how pretty much everyone I know, and then the people that they know had had some kind of  interaction, right? So people were saying, “I stand with Jussie”....And then, as it started to unravel, there were a lot of people who were like, “No.” Even me, I’m like, “This can’t be happening.” Because if it’s not true, what was your end game in the beginning? Like how was this going to end? And there’s still a piece of me that is just, you know, hoping that – what happened?

To Geist’s point, why was a supposed journalist like Jones “rooting for an outcome” in the case rather than simply waiting for facts?

Of course, the media, including NBC, have been rooting for a particular outcome since day one of the story, seizing on the fabricated attack as supposed evidence of Trump inspiring racism across the country.

Here is a transcript of the February 21 exchange:

9:03 AM ET

(...)

SHEINELLE JONES: This just breaks my heart. It breaks my heart. It breaks my heart. The night it happened, you know, it was interesting, my Instagram was full of – I didn’t realize how pretty much everyone I know, and then the people that they know had had some kind of interaction, right? So people were saying, “I stand with Jussie” and they were posting pictures and fun-loving things that they’ve done, random moments at home or what have you. And then, as it started to unravel, there were a lot of people who were like, “No.” Even me, I’m like, “This can’t be happening.” Because if it’s not true, what was your end game in the beginning? Like how was this going to end? And there’s still a piece of me that is just, you know, hoping that – what happened? I just –  

CRAIG MELVIN: I don’t know if we – you know, again, he enjoys the presumption of innocence.

JONES: Sure, that’s why –  

MELVIN: But, you know, it doesn’t look good.

JONES: Yeah.

WILLIE GEIST: Yeah, I think it’s a good lesson for a lot of people, including people in our business, about not rooting for an outcome. You see a story...

JONES: You just have to wait.

GEIST: ...some people hope it’s true, and they dive in on it before we know anything about it. I was – we were talking earlier this morning -- on Sunday Today, when this story came out, I said in a script that “Jussie Smollett claims to have been attacked” and I was attacked online.

JONES: Because of the word “claims.”

GEIST: “How dare you say ‘claims,’ how dare you not take him at his word.” Our job is not to take people at their word, it’s to follow the facts and find out what happened.

JACOB SOBOROFF: The worst part about it – whether or not this ends up being true, is it takes attention away from the very real hatred and bigotry that people experience every single day all across America. And of course we’re going to talk about this, but we shouldn’t forget to talk about this when it happens every other time, every single day in this country.

JONES: I think that’s why it’s essentially captivated the country. This started as, in our news industry we say a b-block story or something, “Hey this happened.” Now, it is the lead on all the networks all over the country because it’s such a hot topic anyway. And like Jacob was saying, we’re already dealing with things in the country. So it just combines, you know, you talk about race and politics and, you know, LGBTQ.

MELVIN: It doesn’t help that the homicide rate in Chicago is around 17%. There are about a dozen officers dedicated to this case. Those are folks and those are resources that could have been used –  

DYLAN DREYER: Used elsewhere.

MELVIN: Yes.

JONES: So we’ll just have to see how it plays out.         

MELVIN: Yes.

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