CNN anchor Don Lemon on Wednesday evening admitted that “certain groups of people” like “black folks” and “gay folks” wanted to believe Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s story about being attacked by racist and homophobic supporters of President Donald Trump even though they were highly skeptical of his claims.
“Can we be honest? To certain groups of people, even if they were skeptical, they said I hope this is not true,” Lemon said when speaking about impending charges against Smollett for filing a false police report. “Black folks, gay folks, you know.”
Smollett reportedly paid two Nigerian-American brothers $3,500 to stage an attack on him because he was dissatisfied with his salary (reportedly over $1 million per year) on Empire. Smollett turned himself into authorities on Thursday morning and was later released after posting bond ($100,000).
Though Lemon said “a lot of people, including people in the community, people of color and gay people, had questions about this from the very beginning” because “some of the details didn’t seem to make sense,” mainstream media networks like CNN and hosts like Lemon never gave a voice to these “people of color” and “gay people” who supposedly had serious doubts about Smollett’s story from the get go.
Instead, because Smollett claimed that his attackers yelled that Chicago was “MAGA country,” the media amplified the voices of Democrats running for president and activist organizations that rushed to condemn Trump and the climate of “hate” he was creating in this country.
NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson, for instance, said that “the rise in hate crimes is directly linked to President Donald J. Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric” in a statement about the “recent racist and homophobic attack on acclaimed actor and activist Jussie Smollett.”
Lemon also revealed that the case was “a little bit personal” for him because he met Smollett and became friends with him after Lemon made a cameo on Empire.
“We chatted for a couple times after that. I saw him maybe when he came to New York a couple times. I know him, not best friends, but I do know him,” Lemon said.
Lemon said he even spoke to Smollett right after he reportedly staged the attack.
“So, I spoke to him while he was at the hospital. His friend who was there texted me in the middle of the night and said, hey, this happened to Jussie. I called a friend. The friend happened to be there, and he said, Jussie is here. Here’s the phone,” Lemon continued. “So, he told me in his own words what he said happened. But I’ve also got to tell you, to be quite honest, that a lot of people, including people in the community, people of color and gay people, had questions about this from the very beginning, the veracity of this story.”
Who’s going to be out in the frigid cold streets of Chicago in the middle of the night looking for an Empire star? You’ve got to be bundled up in that kind of cold. How would they even know it’s you? And let’s be honest, there are probably not a whole lot of MAGA fans watching Empire. And that letter, it looks like something out of a bad movie. Why not just hand over your phone to police? Yes, there will be things on your phone that you want to keep private, but if there are also things that prove your story, isn’t it worth the handover? … The details just didn’t seem to add up.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Thursday said he was left shaking his head and asking why a black man would “use the symbol of a noose to make false accusations.”
“This announcement today recognizes that ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said at a Thursday press conference. “I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations.”