Jussie Smollett case shows media villainizing Trump and his supporters, without proof — again

 
If the way the Jussie Smollett fiasco was handled by national media is any indication, due process is becoming a foreign concept in a profession in which one is increasingly considered guilty until proven innocent. 

You've likely heard the story by now. African-American actor Smollett says he was attacked at 2 a.m. in sub-zero weather on a street in Chicago. The alleged attackers yelled "This is MAGA country!" while pouring bleach on Smollett and attempting to tie a rope around his neck. 

ADVERTISEMENT

This fantastic story deserved scrutiny from the start. Despite the obvious question of why anyone would attempt such a thing during a polar vortex, the story begs a few basic journalistic questions as well: Why didn't any of the ubiquitous cameras around Chicago capture any of this attack on video? Why couldn't anyone corroborate this story?

No matter. National media outlets ran with the desired narrative: Smollett was absolutely attacked by supporters of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE. Full stop. 

But one very important word was missing from the screaming headlines and from the content itself: "Alleged." 

Because, without that very keyword, the attack and its context is presented to the reader or viewer as undisputed reality. Given the questions around the story and complete lack of evidence, the story deserved to be characterized as alleged until a foundation of facts could be gathered. 

From there, things got even more questionable when Smollett initially refused to hand his phone over to police. This was key, because Smollett said he immediately called his manager, Brandon Moore, right after the attack. For his part, Moore also would not allow his phone to be turned over. 

Smollett eventually did supply the Chicago Police Department his phone records, but they for whatever reason were heavily redacted. 

But the stories portraying Smollett as the victim and portraying Trump supporters as the racist villains went mostly unabated on the national level. That wasn't the case among most local news outlets in Chicago, which covered the story with the caution and scrutiny it deserved. 

National politicians, including those running for president, also blew through the due process stop sign.  

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Poll: Biden support hits record low of 26 percent MORE (D-N.J.) and 2020 presidential candidate, on Jan. 29: “The vicious attack on actor Jussie Smollett was an attempted modern-day lynching. I’m glad he’s safe."

Booker on Feb. 17: “Well, the information is still coming out, and I’m going to withhold until all the information comes out." 

Another presidential hopeful, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Poll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply MORE (D-Calif.), also pitched the story as a "modern-day lynching." 

"Jussie Smollett is one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know. I’m praying for his quick recovery," Harris tweeted. "No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate," she added. 

Harris has not commented on jumping to this conclusion since. And why would she when the questions aren't being asked? 

The characters change but the story remains the same: If Trump or a Trump supporter is involved in an incident, guilt is assumed. Due process be damned. 

 
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.