‘Fact-Checker’ NewsGuard Gives High Ratings to Outlets that Peddled Lies About Smollett — and Haven’t Retracted

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newsguard smollet rating

The former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was found guilty Thursday “on five charges of staging a hate crime and lying to police.”  Smollett staged a “hate crime” hoax, where supposed racists (with MAGA gear/slogans) attacked him, slinging homophobic and racist epithets. . .except the “attackers” were actually hired by Smollett himself, as the courts have now confirmed (and they were not even white).

Aside from the fact that high-profile Democrat politicians have not apologized for endorsing a hoax (among them Joe Biden and Kamala Harris), media outlets who once celebrated Smollett as an oppressed hero seem rather amnesiac about their former reports.  Recently the murder suspect who plowed through a crowd of children and families in an SUV at a Waukesha Christmas parade was discovered to have been invested in violent BLM-style rhetoric.  Has the mainstream media caused or at least encouraged real-world violence by touting “hate crime” hoaxes like Jussie’s without bothering to fact-check?  And to top it off, NewsGuard, which touts itself as a sort of arbiter of “credibility” in the news world, is continuing to put seals of approval on the very sites that once lauded Smollett and are now apparently pretending they didn’t.

Before I look at a few of the previously hoax-endorsing sites that NewsGuard touts as credible—a thread of commonality I noticed was that suddenly MAGA was left out of the conversation in reporting on the verdict. Many sites, such as MSNBC, wanted to pin the “hate crime” on Trump supporters when it first happened—and now that we know it’s a hoax, no apologies, no explanations, nothing but silence on that point.

Snopes has a NewsGuard rating of 95/100 (very high).  “We are the internet’s go-to source for discerning what is true and what is total nonsense,” Snopes boasts.  Of course, Snopes has openly defended Democrat liars and its co-founder David Mikkelson was involved in a massive scandal after the leftist, anti-Trump “fack-checker” was found to have “consistently engaged in plagiarism and even wrote under an assumed name for an extended period of time.”

Snopes republished an AP report on the Smollett verdict, which was quite neutral on whether or not Smollett was guilty (apparently leftist sites only hurl epithets when the story supports their narrative).  Snopes had previously (in 2019) republished another AP story, this one at the start of the controversy, gushing over Jussie in its opening.  “Jussie Smollett was blunt, emotional and defiantly determined Saturday night at a Southern California concert some urged him not to play, telling the crowd before singing a note that he had to go on with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win. ‘The most important thing I can say is ‘thank you so much, and I’m OK,’ said the ‘Empire’ actor and R&B singer,” the story started.

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Maybe Snopes should be fact-checking itself—or AP.  That February 2019 AP piece practically drooled over Smollett, including praise from various people on how Smollett was a “fighter” and stating, “Chicago police also said Smollett has been cooperative and they have found no reason to think he’s not being genuine.”  You will be happy to know that AP (Associated Press) has a NewsGuard rating of 95/100, with NewsGuard claiming AP is good at “not repeatedly publish[ing] false content” and “regularly” correcting or clarifying errors.  But no update or correction has been attached to that 2019 Smollett article.

As another instance, let’s look at ABC News.  ABC “Does not repeatedly publish false content” and “regularly corrects or clarifies errors,” according to NewsGuard.  ABC News is rated at 82.5/100 (still has the green seal of approval).  So is this assessment accurate if we look at ABC coverage of Jussie Smollett?  ABC’s Good Morning America did a fawning interview of Jussie Smollett, the first interview since the alleged “hate crime” occurred.  At that point there was already emerging evidence that calling the event a true “hate crime” was, in fact, questionable.  ABC’s Robin Roberts apparently never indicated the questionable status of the “hate crime” while interviewing Smollett, however, rather casting Smollett practically as a martyred hero; “It’s been two weeks since that night left actor Jussie Smollett bruised but not broken.”  Roberts asked Smollett, “If the attackers are never found, how will you be able to heal?” and defended Smollett’s story as “credible.”

“I think that what people need to hear is just the truth,” Smollett said emotionally (Smollett sobbed into a tissue at one point in the interview as well).  Well, people have heard the truth now, and it isn’t pretty for Smollett—or ABC News.  ABC’s website published an article on the guilty verdict, rather ambiguous on whether it thought the verdict correct, and talking as much about Smollett’s lawyers’ claim that Smollett is innocent as the actual verdict.  It took 666 days (the satire of that number writes itself, doesn’t it?) for Good Morning America to mention Jussie Smollett again after that initial enthusiastic endorsement.

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The segment covering the verdict was comparatively brief, and Good Morning America certainly didn’t admit any culpability in misleading people.  So there doesn’t seem to be any retraction or repentance involved here.  Of course it’s possible for even good journalists to make mistakes, to believe stories that later turn out to be untrue (though the way that these outlets all framed the story originally was extreme in any case).  What is key, however, is whether the journalist or organization issues a visible update or correction, clearly stating that the information was incomplete or wrong.  This is especially crucial in a situation like this, where a major network glorified a man who stoked the fires of racial hatred and division, demonizing a whole group of Americans (MAGA supporters), and turned out to be a liar.  That is dangerous stuff.  I’m waiting for the correction and apology, ABC.

MSNBC does have a green approval marker from NewsGuard as well (despite admitted “significant exceptions” to credibility standards), though its credibility rating is not so high as ABC’s (70/100).  While NewsGuard admits that MSNBC is lacking in correcting errors regularly, NewsGuard does say MSNBC “Does not repeatedly publish false content.”  MSNBC published a clip of its televised coverage of the “hate crime” from 2019, still up on its site, with the caption on the website, “‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett was assaulted in Chicago on Tuesday by two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him and wrapped a rope around his neck in an attack police are investigating as a hate crime, officials said.”

Notice the summary doesn’t say “alleged” attack—it’s assuming Smollett’s veracity.  The clip involves a MSNBC reporter reading a quote from Smollett telling critics, “F*** you and goodbye.”  Very classy.

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“This is horrible to report,” sighed the female reporter, beginning MSNBC coverage of this supposed “terrible” and “very disturbing” attack. The various MSNBC reporters favored the interpretation that the “attack” was a “hate crime” and made sure to mention that the supposed attackers were white and reportedly wearing MAGA hats (although, to give the female reporter credit, she did repeat that the latter detail was not confirmed).  By the way, the Osundairo brothers—the “attackers”—are not white, as I said above.

I’m not seeing a whole lot of retraction from MSNBC—I guess even NewsGuard has had to admit that’s a problem area.  The site’s The ReidOut Blog posted an article on Dec. 9 turning a report of the guilty verdict into an opportunity to bash Trump supporters and conservatives in general, saying that such an attack as Smollett’s staged hoax was “totally plausible,” using the alleged Jan. 6 “insurrection” as proof.

I’m thinking MSNBC has a penchant for touting staged crimes, since evidence indicates the “insurrection” may have been orchestrated (at least in part) by the FBI.  MSNBC Opinion also published a piece, sobbing, “Jussie Smollett being found guilty of hoax will hurt LGBTQ folks reporting hate crimes. Jussie Smollett guilty verdict will be used by Trump supporters to prove Democrats wrongly label them villains.”  That same article actually said, “It doesn’t matter if the actor, who starred on ‘Empire,’ really was beaten up by people yelling ‘This is MAGA country!’ and is wrongly being punished or if he did stage an elaborate hoax.”  And proceeded to bash the “right” for decrying Smollett’s actions.  I mean, I know this is an opinion piece, but this site is considered credible by NewsGuard?  Really?

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Let’s face it.  Leftist news sites jumped on board the “hate crime” bandwagon as soon as possible because the hoax totally validated their narrative.  White, racist, homophobic Trump supporters attack a black celebrity!  What a story!  Trump supporters knew from the start the whole incident was a little odd—not because there are not members of every group capable of doing very bad things, but because it’s frankly rare for white people in America today to don political apparel and execute explicitly white supremacist violence on a random black guy (especially at night in Chicago, which is hardly MAGA country).  And NewsGuard isn’t objective—it’s part of the left-leaning mainstream establishment like all the rest.

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