CNN's Stelter: 'We May Never Know What Happened' to Smollett in Chicago

'The narrative has once again changed, from victim to villain back to victim'

March 26, 2019

CNN media reporter Brian Stelter said "we may never know what happened" to actor Jussie Smollett on a January night in Chicago, saying the "narrative had once again changed" and he was now a "victim" with the decision by Illinois prosecutors to drop the disorderly conduct charges against him.

Stelter recounted that a friend of Smollett's had told him he wanted to get back to work, following Empire's decision to drop him from the final two episodes of the season when he was indicted.

"I do think we will see Smollett get back to work," Stelter said. "The narrative has once again changed, from victim to villain back to victim. It's been very confusing ... People don't know what to believe, and we may never really know what happened on the street that night in Chicago."

"For his fans, for his friends, this is a triumphant moment that he can now get back to what he wants to do, which is work," he added.

Stelter also pinned the story's political angle on TMZ for reporting that Smollett said his attackers wore hats bearing Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. Smollett told police and ABC that the attackers yelled "MAGA country" at him, and he said he suspected the assault occurred because "I come really hard at 45," a reference to Trump.

"It's a collision of race and celebrity and all these factors," Stelter said.

"And politics," host Kate Bolduan said.

"And so messy as a result," Stelter said. "It was because an anonymous source said to TMZ that Smollett said they were wearing MAGA hats, and this was a Trump supporter attack against a black man. It became political within a few minutes, and that's what made this even harder to get to the truth about."

Prominent Democrats, including presidential candidates, immediately jumped on Smollett's hate crime claim when it broke in January, with Sens. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) likening it to a modern-day "lynching."

Smollett was indicted last month after what Chicago police described as an elaborate scheme to fake a hate crime attack against himself, as part of an effort to increase his salary on Empire. Smollett, who is gay and African American, had previously claimed for weeks he was set upon by two white Donald Trump supporters who recognized him from his show, yelled "MAGA country" and homophobic and racial slurs at him, poured bleach on him, put a noose around his neck, and beat him up, in the middle of the night in sub-freezing temperatures.

Now, the charges have been dismissed after what the Cook County State Attorney's Office said was a review of the "facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago."

Although he received an initial outpouring of support from Democrats and the media, the public tide began turning against Smollett last month as local reporting exposed holes in the story. Smollett went on ABC News and cried over his fears that the perpetrators wouldn't be brought to justice. Prosecutors later said that he paid $3,500 by check to two brothers he knew, who were African-American, to attack him in the fashion he described, and also gave them $100 for the supplies they needed.

After Smollett was arrested, Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson savaged Smollett at a press conference, saying he had manipulated the country's feelings on race and dragged Chicago's reputation through the mud for personal gain.