Obtaining the truth can be painful. It can be uncomfortable at times, especially when emotions are involved and the person(s) providing information are conflicted. But it is the job of the journalist to go after that truth and present it unvarnished.
As a journalist, you objectively and fairly report the facts and go where the facts lead you. Regardless of color, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic level or political persuasion, a journalist’s job is to remain neutral and go after the facts by way of asking questions or research. The moment a journalist allows any of the aforementioned to be compromised all journalistic integrity is lost and the story becomes null and void.
Unfortunately, this holds true with many of today’s journalists. They have become compromised by stepping into the shoes of the person(s) being interviewed. In doing so, the journalists frame the story they want to hear instead of asking questions to tell the story and get at the truth.
This couldn’t be any truer than the recent interviews done by Robin Roberts, of ABC’s Good Morning America (AMA), and Gayle King of CBS This Morning.
Roberts and King are black women. They interviewed two black men in the entertainment industry, who happened to be involved in two separate high profile cases. Roberts interview was with the actor, singer Jussie Smollett of the hit Fox TV series Empire.
In February, Smollett was said to have been a victim of a hate crime in ultra-liberal Chicago. His perpetrators were allegedly two white men wearing black masks and red MAGA hats. The two men were said to have called him out saying “Hey Empire” before beating him and shouting racial and homophobic epithets.
During the interview, Smollett recanted this to Roberts. He said that the attack happened shortly after he had gotten a sandwich from Subway and was heading home. Roberts allowed him to tell his story unchallenged. She never questioned how two men in the early morning (carrying bleach and a noose) dead of winter in Chicago were able to identify him. She also didn’t ask how he was able to escape his attackers with his Subway sandwich intact. When he was interviewed at his apartment by police, Smollett said he was still wearing a noose around his neck. Roberts didn’t question it. At one point during the interview, Smollett started crying and Roberts looked on at him shaking her head as if to validate his story.
Roberts said she didn’t go any further than she had in the interview (she basically just sat and listened to him talk) because “I’m a black gay woman, he’s a black gay man. He’s saying that it was a hate crime,” she recalled. “So if I’m too hard on him, then people in my LGBTQ community are going, ‘Oh, you don’t believe him.’ If I’m too light on him, then it’s like, ‘Oh, because you are in the community, you’re giving him a pass.’ So it was, like, it was a no-win situation for me.”
Unlike Roberts’ interview with Smollett, when R&B crooner R. Kelly was interviewed by King no stone was left unturned.
Kelly has been accused of having sex with underage girls, making explicit videos having sex with them and holding women at his home against their will. When King sat down to interview the singer she dived right into it. King was unwavering in her line of questioning. She journalistically challenged him on his facts all while remaining calm and collective. At one point, the interview became so intense that Kelly became visibly emotional, stood up and started shouting at the cameras declaring his innocence. King was unmoved and remained stoic. She allowed him his moment. Once he calmed down, she continued with her line of questioning.
When asked about the interview King said “I could see him getting more heated, he was upset with me about some of the questions — that’s OK — he was a little irritated, and that’s OK,” she said of what was going through her mind during the interview. “So when I see Robert [Kelly] getting really upset, and he stands out of his seat, my initial reaction was, ‘Oh god, please don’t leave, please don’t leave. If we had both gotten emotional and amped up like that, what good would have come of that?” she explained.
The subject matter in both of these interviews dealt with crimes allegedly being committed by black men. However, by her own admission, Roberts attempted to identify with Smollett because he is black and a member of the LGBTQ community, as is she.
Black journalists have been fighting against blacks covering only blacks stories for some time. Gay journalists probably feel the same about covering gay stories because they are gay. Albeit, if interviewing a person of similar background it could possibly get the person to open up and share more of their story. However, as a whole, still, a good journalist should be able to cover any story.
King during her interview with Kelly remained focused on her story to get answers. When asked by a reporter of the New York Times if she felt sympathy for Kelly, she said “I felt sympathy for a human being that I could see was coming unglued. I don’t have sympathy for the charges or the allegations.”
A week after the Smollett interview the Chicago Police said the actor was a victim of his own staged hate crime. He was booked and charged with disorderly conduct. Since the initial charge, Smollett has been charged with16 additional felony counts including falsely reporting a hate crime. He is free on bond. Kelly went to jail shortly after his interview for back child support payments. He has since been released on bond and pending a court hearing.