It’s been roughly 12 hours since the last time we wrote about the racist and homophobic attack launched against Empire star Jussie Smollett on the streets of Chicago last month—i.e., just long enough for this entire story to get thoroughly buried in a wave of confusion, misinformation, and increasingly high-volume competing accounts. That being said, it’s presumably worth at least a bit of our collective time to try to figure out a basic timeline about how this whole clusterfuck went down, so let’s dive in.
To start: As we previously reported, Smollett went on Good Morning, America this morning to talk about the attack—and especially to address those people who refuse to believe that a couple of guys in Chicago might choose to try to kick the ass of a black, openly gay actor who’s made public, negative statements about Donald Trump. These accusations have been swirling around the incident since it was first reported, although it’s never been entirely clear why this particular altercation was thought to be the linchpin of some kind of false flag anti-MAGA master plan.
Zooming out a bit, we learn that, right around the time of Smollett’s interview, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department had made a statement on Twitter, announcing that two “persons of interest” had been identified as having been in the area of the attack. The spokesperson also confirmed that the two men had been picked up for questioning. The Chicago PD has repeatedly refused to classify these two men, who they’ve been reportedly questioning throughout the day, as suspects.
Fast forward to about three hours ago, when Chicago’s local media personalities began to get what we can only describe as “professionally thirsty” in regards to this case. Chicago’s ABC7—and specifically, the Twitter account of anchor Rob Elgas—began reporting on developments in Smollett’s attack, starting by tweeting out an update that the two men picked up by Chicago PD had previously appeared as extras on Empire. (This was later co-signed by their rivals at CBS Chicago, who say that they talked to the men’s attorney, who confirmed it.) Elgas followed that up with an assertion—which also ended up in ABC7's reporting, and in the CBS Chicago report—that Chicago PD detectives were now investigating whether Smollett had staged the attack, with ABC7 going so far as to state that it was “because Smollett was being written off of Empire.” All of this was attributed to “multiple,” but unnamed, sources.
At this point, multiple voices start chiming in to call bullshit, even as ABC7's report and the other local news allegations began to spread online. A spokesperson for the Chicago PD responded to the case on Twitter, stating that “media reports about the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed,” and calling ABC7's sources “uninformed and inaccurate.” Fox and the Empire writers’ room Twitter account both loudly denied that there was any intention of writing Smollett’s character off the show. And Smollett’s representation made it clear that, contrary to Elgas and his team’s initial reporting, Smollett had, in fact, responded to questions from police about the attack earlier today.
Per those same news reports, the CPD can hold the two persons of interest without charging them with anything until tomorrow night. On the one hand, the organization is being publicly very careful not to piss people off by attempting to victim-blame Smollett, or even worse, accuse him of running some kind of hoax. (Police superintendent Eddie Johnson even reportedly called ABC7 to make it clear that Smollett is “considered a victim” in the case.) On the other hand, it seems unlikely that two local news teams would go this far out on a limb without someone in the CPD saying something fairly inflammatory in an off-the-record sense. Smollett, meanwhile, has never really wavered in reporting the details of what happened to him, while his network seems extremely determined to make it clear that his alleged “motive” for faking an attack doesn’t actually exist.
So, yeah, like we said: Clusterfuck.