Thoughts on Jussie Smollett for My Diversity and Media Class

Jussie Smollett

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When you teach a course called “Diversity in Media”, Jussie Smollett provided one heck of a teachable moment.

As a veteran minority journalist, I use my nearly 40 years as a TV, radio and print reporter to approach the class how a Vietnam Vet might teach the war. I’ve been through all the diversity coverage and employment battles. To add the broader historical foundation, I use News for All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres, which begins with the first newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick in 1690, and takes us through Jackson, the Trail of Tears and beyond. With that as a backdrop, in class we discuss how the media has tried to be that perfect mirror to capture our ever changing and diverse society.

Enter the Smollett case which adds the three modern day factors that have changed journalism, the media and our society.

The first is fame/celebrity; the second is technology/social media; and then finally, there’s the third, the extreme desire for wealth (billions, not millions), or quite simply greed.

Coincidentally, all three factors might explain why the U.S. has the president it has now.

And that, of course, contributed another piece to the Smollett story’s toxic mix — the injection of “MAGA”— that touched off hot buttons, as the president might say, among “good people on all sides.”

That’s not exactly high ground, but it shows how we’ve sunk as a society.

When the story broke

I am proud to say when the whole Smollett saga began soon after that 2 a.m. walk in the cold for a Subway sandwich in Chicago late January, I resisted the story.

I saw it on social media and I did nothing. I’m a professional journalist. I didn’t know enough to comment. I watched. And then saw social media do its thing. The story blew up. (read more)

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