Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Here’s a wild one. No make it a wild, wild, one. What if Jussie Smollett actually wanted to get caught? There’s good reason why from the moment he claimed that he was the victim of a vicious hate crime attack, more than few skeptical eyebrows were raised. In fact, everything he said, and left unsaid, about the circumstances of the attack seemed beyond far-fetched. In the days afterwards, as more details emerged, the skepticism turned to flat out disbelief. Simply put you’d have to search far and wide to find a crime that was this clumsy, inept, and silly. You’d have to search even further to find someone who could stage, orchestrate, rehearse, or whatever term that’s used to describe Smollett’s alleged set-up of the fake attack, who could be clumsier in the staging.
It really didn’t take a Sherlock or Colombo to piece this one together. More than a few, including Chicago’s police commissioner, said that Smollett did it for publicity, which potentially translates into a bigger payday, and bigger stardom. But it didn’t take a PT Barnum to figure out that hucksterism can pay, and pay big, and that also includes negative publicity, if one is from the school that the only bad publicity is no publicity. If one is from that school then it really doesn’t matter whether Smollett had a publicity death wish, or was just plain stupid, in the fake attack.
The end result is the same. It has instantly transformed him from a mid-level player on one of dozens of TV drama shows, to a household name. He will hardly be the first to recognize the potential phenomenal reward of a headline grabbing cheap publicity stunt. It’s worked for a president and a Kardashian who understands the era we’re in. That is an era where much of the media has made a fetish out of the endless cycling of stories on the sex, drugs, violence, and the antics of high-profile celebrities. It has eagerly applied this shock and gossip reporting to any and every other celebrity and sports screw-up around.
In the process, it has turned much of the public into gossip junkies salivating over the prospect of the next morsel of tabloid titillation. So, whether it’s the guy in the White House who has mesmerized the media and public with a deluge of insipid, vapid, shock and sensationalist tweets, digs, and wisecracks. Or, whether it’s anyone doing the most outrageous act of exhibitionism, it’s done with the full knowledge it will be a news cycle hit somewhere and will gorge the prurient public gossip mill. Smollett and his stunt then are a natural for these times. There will be the multi-million dollars tell all book, offers for a reality biopic, and clamor for an exclusive salacious interview with him.
Yes, it’s a wild stretch, to think that anyone would deliberately grab for a headline, with the price for it being their self-destruction. However, one thing is certain in tabloid America, Smollett’s alleged stunt got, no was guaranteed to get, publicity beyond his, or any PR agent’s, wildest dreams.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of The Russia Probe: What Did Trump Know, And When Did He Know It? (Middle Passage Press) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L46G65XHe is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.