March 04, 2019
Why We Should All Avoid the Jussie Smollett-Style Rush to Judgment
I have to admit that we don’t often represent athletes and celebrities, nor do we frequently write about them. Certainly, we have handled some of the largest celebrity and athlete matters over the years, but the challenge of representing people used to the spotlight and surrounded by minions is that they are, not entirely surprisingly, often not so good at taking direction. While most crisis responses usually include a confluence of ego and business considerations, those that monetize their egos for a living often present more of a challenge to separate the two when critical business thinking is required. When one of my editors at Forbes asked me to opine on the Jussie Smollett disaster unwinding in Chicago, I first turned her down. We have too many articles from the communications industry that parse apologies, non-apologies, and the “12-steps” of crisis recovery. It’s not that these don’t have value, it’s just that they feel more like recipes rather than reason. But the more we wrote back and forth, the more the Smollett case began to feel like an emblem of our time. An actor not feeling he was getting enough attention or money, and an allegation of a hate crime that was casting doubt on future hate crimes where sympathy, empathy, and justice are demanded.
And so we wrote the story, not about what Jussie Smollett should do, but about what we should do. How we should reserve judgment, await facts, and review situations through the eyes of an innocent rather than mirror-covered glasses that reflect only what we want to see. The response, particularly on LinkedIn, where the story has also been posted, has elicited a number of positive comments about this being yet another clarion call for how we interact as citizens in our fragile republic.
The hero in this story turns out to be Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who reminds us of what dignity, honesty, and integrity are. In an age of over-information, a blurring of the lines between right and wrong, and the misuse of position and power (soft and hard), this tragedy has a silver lining, and it is that such public servants as Superintendent Johnson are still drawn to serve. Variety was also kind enough to quote me early on in the story, where the foundation for the Forbes column first took hold.
I hope you enjoy the read and that we are all up to the challenge.