Robin Roberts had doubts about Jussie Smollett’s alleged “hate crime” attack before she interviewed him about it on Good Morning America.
During her solo panel at The Cut‘s “How I Get It Done” event, the ABC News anchor shared the details about her high-profile interview with the Empire star weeks after he claimed he was the victim of a hate crime on the streets in Chicago — and weeks before police accused him of staging the attack for publicity.
Like many, Roberts saw some “red flags” in Smollett’s story when news of the attack first broke. But, unlike other critics, she was put in the awkward position of being asked to interview him on national television before law enforcement had a chance to conduct a full investigation.
After telling the crowd that all she wanted to get from Smollett was “the truth,” Roberts admitted she was initially hesitant to even conduct an interview with him because not much about the attack had been confirmed at the time.
Recalling how the GMA booking department had reached out to her about sitting down with the 35-year-old actor, Roberts explained:
“I’ll be completely honest, I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to do the interview or not.’ Let’s just wait and see, let’s see if more information comes in.”
Roberts was particularly skeptical about interviewing Smollett after he made comments in the days following the attack. She maintained that sitting down with him on GMA made “no sense” if he was just going to “lawyer up” or refuse to share details that weren’t previously reported.
But, days later, Smollett’s team apparently reached out to GMA “outraged by people making assumptions about whether it happened or not,” according to Roberts, and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: the actor was fine with being challenged on anything the anchor saw as “red flags” and would also say things he hadn’t already said elsewhere.
Like any good journalist, Roberts took the bait. She recalled:
“I’m like — as a journalist and as a newsperson, this is his right. He’s going on the record for the first time. Yes, I’ll do the interview.”
How could she not!?
Roberts explained that her GMA team went through the police report and conducted additional research before the interview, which was conducted on Tuesday, February 12 — two days before it aired on Feb. 14.
During the panel, Roberts admitted she wasn’t sure how the actor was going to react, but acknowledged that she made an effort to be as neutral as possible — especially being a gay black woman reporting on an alleged hate crime on a gay black man.
“He’s saying that it was a hate crime. 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.”
As it would turn out, Roberts was criticized for going too easy on the actor. To that, the anchor said she would have pushed him harder with her questioning if more details had come to light before the interview was conducted. She confessed:
“It was hurtful, some of the things that were said. I’ll be honest. Because I pride myself on being fair. I know how much work went into being balanced about what to ask, to challenge him on certain things… Had I had that information or what the brothers were alleging — heck, yeah, I would have asked that. But it aired that morning we taped it two days ahead of time.”
She was working with what she had a the time. Can you blame her for trying to be fair?
We wonder how hard Roberts would go on Smollett if she had the chance to interview him again…
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