ABC Anchor Robin Roberts Defends Jussie Smollett Interview Amid Backlash

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
February 18, 2019Entertainment
ABC Anchor Robin Roberts Defends Jussie Smollett Interview Amid Backlash
Jussie Smollett at an event in Central Park on May 14, 2018. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

The ABC News anchor who sat down with Jussie Smollett for the first interview after he was allegedly attacked is defending her interview as Smollett’s story is reportedly unraveling.

Robin Roberts said on “Good Morning America” on Feb. 17 that she relied on Smollett and the Chicago Police Department for her reporting.

“When I sat down with Jussie it was Tuesday night [Feb. 11] in Chicago, at the time to give his first account, publicly give his first account of what he said happened,” Roberts said.

“At that time, on Tuesday, police officers were saying that his account was consistent, it was credible, and that he was being cooperative. This was all before the interview aired on Thursday, and then we found out about the brothers.”

Reports emerged over the weekend that two Nigerian brothers were allegedly paid by Smollett to stage the attack, which he then blamed on supporters of President Donald Trump.

Smollett claimed that on Jan. 29 two men wearing ski masks dumped bleach on him and wrapped a rope around his neck, telling the “Empire” actor that Chicago was “MAGA country,” apparently in reference to Trump’s slogan “Make American Great Again.”

Police confirmed the brothers were arrested and then released but have not confirmed the reports that Smollett was involved in planning the attack or that he could face a grand jury, saying they want to speak with him again based on information they received from the brothers.

During Monday’s show, ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams told Roberts that comments Smollett made during the interview could be used against him if the story does indeed turn out to be false.

Brothers paid to attack Jussie Smollett
Abel Osundairo (L), and his brother Ola Osundairo, in a file photo. The Nigerian brothers were arrested in connection with the alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett but were released after reportedly telling detectives Smollett paid them to stage the attack. (Team Abel/Instagram)
jussie smollett 1
This image taken from surveillance video shows two people of interest in an attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett walking along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, on Jan. 29, 2019. (Courtesy of Chicago Police Department via AP)

“In that interview, [Smollett] specifically says, ‘Yeah, those two guys on the surveillance footage, those are the guys that attacked me,’ so now he’s sort of boxed in,” Abrams said.

During the interview, Smollett repeatedly slammed people who doubted his story.

“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more,” Smollett said. “And that says a lot about the place where we are as a country right now.”

He said he felt people doubted him not because of his story, but because he was a critic of Trump.

Many media outlets passed along Smollett’s story without noting that the attack was alleged while the Chicago Police Department continued stating the attack was alleged and referring to Smollett as “the alleged victim.”

A slew of lawmakers, activists, reporters, and analysts reacted to the story by slamming Trump reporters and Trump himself and many have yet to apologize or retract their statements, noted Quillette editor Andy Ngo and Mediaite reporter Caleb Howe.

In her interview, Roberts neglected to refer to the attack as alleged. On Feb. 18, she did refer to the attack as alleged.

Among those criticizing Roberts was Curtis Houck of the media watchdog Media Research Center. “Roberts gave Smollett a soft platform to spin his tall tale less than 24 hours before it was blown to pieces,” Houck wrote, noting that ABC, CBS, and NBC spent a total of 101 minutes and 22 seconds on Smollett’s alleged attack from Jan. 29 through Feb. 14.

“ABC News gave Smollett a massive outlet with which to tell his story and they didn’t push back at all. They allowed it to percolate. ABC News should be held accountable and you and I both know if Fox did this, we’d have heard something different in this discussion,” added Resurgent writer Erick Erickson.

Abrams was among those critics against Roberts, telling her on Monday: “I have to say, Robin, even in the interview that you did, you were talking about the skeptics.” He added later, “You don’t want to go out and publicly start questioning someone who talks about a horrific attack like this until you’ve got the goods.”

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