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Chicago media teaches master class with careful coverage of Smollett story

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The public is provided regular examples of media outlets getting a big story horribly wrong. This has eroded trust in media for many Americans.

That erosion is especially amplified on the right, where 92 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents “say that traditional news outlets knowingly report false or misleading stories at least sometimes,” according to a 2018 poll conducted by Axios and Survey Monkey. 

That sentiment also extends to independents and even a majority of Democrats, with 79 percent of the former and 53 percent of the latter saying they also believe traditional outlets knowingly report false or misleading stories at least sometimes.

Which brings us to the latest fiasco regarding the Jussie Smollett story — a story too Hollywood to be true. Smollett appears to have wanted sympathy, a bigger profile and — most importantly — the perfect example that Trump supporters are violent racists. Here were two pro-Trump guys, Smollett said, ready to attack a gay, black man with bleach and a rope to use as a noose and at 2 a.m. with cameras everywhere during a polar vortex.

National media ran with the story as absolute fact despite the obvious questions. This was evidenced by the word “alleged” curiously missing from dozens of headlines and articles weeks after Smollett first made his claim. 

“Celebrities, lawmakers rally behind Jussie Smollett in wake of brutal attack” – ABC News 

“Analysis: The Jussie Smollett attack highlights the hate black gay Americans face” – Washington Post

“‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett attacked in possible hate crime” – CNN

“Empire star Jussie Smollett attacking in Chicago by men hurling homophobic and racial slurs” – NBC News

“Celebrities Rally Behind Jussie Smollett After Brutal Attack In Chicago” – Buzzfeed

Thankfully, local Chicago media took a much more careful, skeptical tone. Leading the way were Rafer Weigel of Fox 32 in Chicago and Rob Elgas of ABC-7.

In an interesting twist despite this story being huge for the better part of four weeks, neither of these reporters have appeared on almost any national news outlets, which is commonplace in situations like this when local resources are tapped to speak on developing stories. Only Fox News booked Weigel, for which he was criticized until explaining why that was the case:

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson put this whole situation into perspective during a Wednesday press conference, highlighting out of whack many priorities are in this business: “It’s just despicable … I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said.  

There were 530 murders in Chicago last year. Since Smollett first made his claim, 18 people have been killed alone, including a 1-year-old child who was shot to death.  

This should be a teachable moment when. Facts and verification are tossed aside when the media’s attempt to be first instead of accurate. We’re seeing the same things happen again and again. 

Almost two-thirds of those polled in a 2018 Survey Monkey/Axios poll say “fake news is usually reported because people have an agenda.” Only 30 percent “believe such information is shared due to laziness or ‘poor fact-checking.” Only 3 percent think “fake news makes headlines by accident.”

The perception of the press has never been so bleak for good reason. 
Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of “WOR Tonight with Joe Concha and Lis Wiehl” weeknights on 710-WOR in New York.
Tags Bias Joe Concha Jussie Smollett media

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