In roughly 24 hours, ABC News had spent over 24 minutes (24 minutes 19 seconds) between their flagship morning and evening broadcasts gushing over Empire star Jussie Smollett and the alleged hate crime he claimed to be a victim of. But recent reporting from ABC7, their local affiliate in Chicago, suggested that Smollett may have collaborated with others to stage the attack because he allegedly was being written off the show.
“Multiple sources have told ABC7 Eyewitness News that police are investigating whether Smollett and the two men staged the attack allegedly because Smollett was being written off of ‘Empire,’” reported ABC7. Adding, “Chicago police told ABC News, Police are investigating whether the two individuals committed the attack – or whether the attack happened at all.’”
That 24 minutes and 19 seconds was tallied from ABC’s World News Tonight’s coverage on February 13-14 and February 14’s Good Morning America when they were either hyping the interview between Smollett and ABC’s Robin Roberts or showing it. Since the alleged attack first broke on January 29, those two programs had spent a total of 52 minutes and 38 seconds covering Smollett’s claims. An alluring claim was the accusation that the attackers yelled: “this is MAGA country.”
During that time, ABC was sympathetic to Smollett despite swirling questions about the validity of his claims. As NewsBusters news analyst Kristine Marsh discovered, Roberts “did not refer to the attack as ‘alleged’ even once.” And the coverage on World News Tonight wasn’t much better.
During Wednesday’s World News Tonight (February 13), reporter Alex Perez touted how: “Tonight, actor Jussie Smollett is speaking out in an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts. For the first time, revealing what he saw in that grainy surveillance image of two people police say were spotted nearby around the time of the attack.”
“The star of the show Empire told Chicago police he was walking back to his downtown apartment when the men assaulted him, battering him in the face, yelling racial and homophobic slurs and putting a noose around his neck. Investigators calling it a possible hate crime,” Perez added.
Perez then played a soundbite of Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson stating: “He is a victim, and we treat him like a victim. He’s been very cooperative.” But that soundbite was from February 1. That date was noteworthy, because, on February 13’s NBC Nightly News, they reported that Chicago Police were saying something totally different.
According to NBC correspondent Ron Mott, since the CPD could not find “evidence of an assault and no independent corroborating information,” they “continue to consider Smollett a ‘possible crime victim’, but say he will be held accountable if they suspect the actor filed a false report.”
Sometime after the ABC interview on Thursday (February 14), news broke that the two people featured in a photo circulated by police were actually people Smollett knew and had worked with on Empire. ABC was still quite sympathetic, with Perez reporting:
But police say they have no evidence the two people were involved in the attack on Smollett. Smollett is being interviewed again by investigators. The Empire star now opening up about what happened that night he was on his phone, talking to his manager. (…) [W]e learned just a short time ago, that authorities actually carried out an overnight raid on the home of those two people that they have been interviewing, collecting shoes and electronic devices as evidence. So far, no one has been charged.
Meanwhile, on Thursday’s NBC Nightly News, reporter Miguel Almaguer was more willing to cast doubt on Smollett. “As Smollett begins to make public appearances, questions are swirling over the actor’s account of the alleged racist and homophobic attack, still not verified by police. The Chicago Tribune is reporting both men questioned today are black,” he recalled.
Adding, “Detectives say they’ve reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance video and have not found any evidence of the attack. Investigators call Smollett an ‘alleged victim’ who they still have questions for.”
In yet another twist late Thursday, ABC7 reporter Rob Elgas reported on Twitter that Superintendent Johnson contacted the outlet to say “Smollett is considered a victim,” and a spokesperson for Smollett said the actor had answered: “Routine follow up questions.”
From the beginning, Smollett’s claims were dubious which were evident by the questions many had, NBC included. And as time went on, the claims appeared to get weaker and weaker.