Smollett saga shows it's no mistake when media target conservatives

Let’s journey back in time to 1988, the final year in office of the original “Make America Great Again” president, Ronald Reagan. Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old African-American girl in New York City, claimed that she had been abducted and raped by six white men, two of them tied to law enforcement. She turned up with “KKK” scrawled across her chest, other racial epithets on her abdomen, and feces smeared in her hair. New York and the nation were outraged.

Then in the early days of his conflict-chasing career, the Rev. Al Sharpton stepped forth, with a salivating national media behind him. Together, they were committed to finding justice for the poor young victim of racism and abuse of power.

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The problem was, her story was a hoax. A grand jury found that the teen made it up, possibly to avoid punishment for staying out late.

Now the nation is captivated by a story that broke a few weeks ago, involving actor/rapper Jussie Smollett. The star of the hit Fox TV series “Empire” filed a police report in Chicago on Jan. 29 claiming he was the victim of an assault by masked perpetrators who called him nasty names because he is an openly gay, black man. They threw in a “This is MAGA country” cherry to top it off, he said.   

Smollett claimed his attackers placed a rope around his neck, and he inexplicably wore the rope home after the attack.

The mainstream media, as in the Tawana Brawley case 31 years earlier, bought Smollett’s story from the beginning. Nowhere to be heard was a skeptic’s voice, wondering if it really made sense and if we shouldn’t wait until an investigation took place before drawing a conclusion.

As I write this, media now are reporting that two men questioned by police have claimed Smollett staged the attack and recruited their involvement to help pull it off. If these reports turn out to be true, this is more than just a Brawley redux. It is the latest in an endless line of media hype over accusative stories that fit a narrative certain media outlets like to advance.

I have been asked by people, “When will the media learn their lesson?” Indeed, some in the profession appear foolish when they instantly believe any story alleging racism, anti-gay attacks, or sexual assault — without first investigating.  

Yet that question misses the point, and reflects a lack of understanding over how the media approach such stories. This is not journalistic malpractice; it appears to be a calculated form of gambling. The American media are playing the lottery.

Most everyone has had the experience of grabbing a scratch-off lottery ticket at a gas station or convenience store. These tickets range in price from $1 to $5 and provide an opportunity to win instantly, rather than waiting one or two days until the next drawing. The prizes can be significant — $20,000 or more.

This is what the media are doing when such stories surface. These stories are like purchasing a “match three” instant lottery ticket — match victimology, severity and truthfulness for a chance to create public outrage against people generally considered “conservatives” and, these days, more specifically labeled “Trump supporters.”

If the story turns out to be false, if the ticket is not a winner, the cost of losing is small. Nobody will lose their job. A significant number of viewers or readers won’t stop consuming the product for long. The media won’t be prevented from approaching the next allegation-based story in the same manner.

Ah, but if they match three? Then the benefit is extraordinary. They will have proof-positive that people who support free markets and conservative ideas are inherently evil and intolerant. Drop the newscaster’s mic!

We watched this happen last year during the nomination hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE, when the dated accusations of three women were immediately accepted as truthful, or at least believable, before any facts were uncovered. One by one, these stories collapsed under scrutiny. Even the witnesses proffered by Christine Blasey Ford, whose testimony became the focal point of the hearings, refused to corroborate her account of what happened.

Does anyone believe that the next time there is a nominee from President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE, or any Republican, that the media will hold back on reporting as truth an accusation by someone who could harm the nominee’s confirmation?

This behavior is institutionalized, and it is a calculus. Stories such as Brawley’s are considered acceptable losses in the world of “get-the-conservative” journalism. It doesn’t apply just to stories of physical attack. Look at how the media recently accepted the disputed BuzzFeed story that President Trump had instructed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie before Congress.

The process at work here resembles the architecture of a computer programmer. First, hear story and report as true. Next, determine actual truth. If true, pursue aggressively. If false, move on to next accusation.

They are algorithmic. They are deliberate in process. They have no lessons to learn, because false stories are simply written into the program.

Charlie Kirk is the founder and president of Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit that aims to educate students on free-market values. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieKirk11.