Why Jussie Smollett deserves to be punished for his shameful hoax

If you have been following the U.S. mainstream media, you will be forgiven for not knowing that the Jussie Smollett trial opened just yesterday.

There has been scant coverage of the trial largely because the press had embarrassed themselves covering the story of the purported racist and homophobic attack on him in 2019.  Since they aren't too keen on learning lessons and certainly not eager to relive their humiliation, they just stay away from the story.

The case merits a quick revision owing to the rapidly evolving or perhaps devolving news cycle.

On January 29, 2019, African-American actor Jussie Smollett, who is gay, claimed that two masked men wearing MAGA hats hurled racist and homophobic abuses at him.  He claims that they proceeded to punch him, pour a chemical substance over him, put a rope around his neck, and berate him with "this is MAGA country."  He also claimed he had received hate mail consisting of a barrage of racist invectives.

The U.S. mainstream media gleefully carried and amplified the story because it fits their narrative of far-right Trump-supporters persecuting a gay man "of color."  Instances such as these explain why very few in the U.S. trust their news media.

But Chicago is by no means "MAGA country," and the entire narrative seemed exaggerated and apocryphal.

As a film critic would say, the characters didn't seem real, and their motives seemed implausible.  The dialogues were overdone, and the plot was lacking.  The choice backdrop lacked credibility.

Despite these obvious questions, anybody who questioned the veracity of the claimed occurrences was branded a racist enabler and conspiracy theorist.  Hollywood celebrities, top Democrats, and then-candidate Kamala Harris offered their support,calling it an example of "an attempted modern-day lynching".

CNN's Don Lemon even developed a personal friendship with Smollett following the attack.  Perhaps it was their lack of gray cell matter and their very distant relationship with the truth that bonded them?

Two weeks after his story broke, Smollett also did an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC where he tearfully relived the nightmare that was his attack.  

"I want a little gay boy who might watch this," Smollett told Roberts, "to see that I fought back."

Smollett also said his account proved that white supremacy had been mainstreamed.

In Smollett's mind, he was on his way to becoming the next MLK.  The fact that he is gay only added to his profile as the perfect victim and hence the ideal activist.

A few weeks later, following a thorough investigation by Chicago's police, it was proved that Smollett had staged the entire attack. The police said that Smollett had paid two Nigerian-born brothers $3,500 to stage the attack to take "advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. Smollett had also sent the racist letter to himself at a Fox studio.

To sum it up, it was all an outrageous and disgraceful hoax.

Fox suspended him from the series Empire and eventually his character was written out of the series..

Smollett was arrested on suspicion of filing a false report and released on bond.Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts.  He was charged with filing a false police report claiming he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.

On March 14, 2019, Smollett appeared in court and pleaded not guilty. Then, in a move that astounded everybody, Cook County state's attorney Kim Foxx dropped all charges against Smollett in exchange for Smollett doing community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond.

It was alleged that Michelle Obama had a role to play in this travesty of justice.

Beyond this mockery of the law, the Smollet hoax also raised serious questions about the times and the society we inhabit, where an affluent and successful individual thinks he can bolster his profile and get a salary hike if he claims to be a victim.

Smollett's hoax proves that victimhood holds more weight than actual accomplishments.  While accomplishment takes a great deal of time and effort, victimhood merely takes a well worded claim. 

It would also explain why the likes of Michelle ObamaMeghan Markle, and even Oprah are eager to be seen as victims rather than achievers.

In current times, victimhood enables activism, which means an excuse for fundraising that merely requires empty virtue-signaling.  Victimhood is a great business model, as proved by the likes of BLM.

If convicted, Smollett could face a prison sentence of up to three years.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the hoax, Smollett continues to  claims his innocence.

While Smollett's hoax was so specific that it was verifiable, others could make claims that are so vague that it is impossible to verify and hence cannot be refuted. 

The question remains: should Smollett be punished, or should he receive a perfunctory slap on the wrist?

There will be those who say nobody was actually harmed, that it was just a silly hoax.

Can we just forgive and forget?

Emphatically not, and for the following reasons:

First, he wasted precious time of Chicago's police, who are struggling to enforce the law in a city infested by crime and gang violence.  To put it in perspective, the time wasted on Smollett's hoax could have been spent investigating and preventing gang violence on the streets.  Smollett's hoax may have cost lives because the police were under pressure to investigate the case, which had received national attention.  The investigation cost the Chicago Police Department around $130,000 in overtime.

Secondly, he defamed an entire group of people.  President Trump's MAGA movement has been vilified from its very beginning, from Hillary Clinton's vicious "basket of deplorables" attack to the myriad physical attacks that supporters of President Trump have endured.  Smollett's allegations doubtlessly added more venom to an already extremely poisonous climate of hate.  Hate is easy to spread and amplify but almost impossible to undo.

Thirdly and importantly, Smollett's hoax demeans real victims of racism and homophobia.  The next time anybody learns of a hate crime that the media are amplifying, the first instinct is to doubt its veracity rather than sympathize with the victim.

The media are at fault here, for magnifying the lies that traveled halfway around the world, while the truth was merely getting its boots on.  If the media had performed some elementary fact-checking, the story would never have received the attention that it did.

Hence, the culprits here are not just Smollett, but also the mainstream news media.

In a civil society, all actions, especially irresponsible actions, must have consequences.

Allow one irresponsible action to go unpunished, and there will be several more, and soon there will be total anarchy.

If there is a determination to create a deterrent against such hoaxes, a fitting punishment for this hoaxer is richly deserved.

Photo credit: Sister Circle LiveCC BY 3.0 license.

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