Much has been written and said regarding Jussie Smollett’s alleged attack – before and after the likely truth came to light.
All indications are he is guilty of a crime. And even worse, guilty of hurting the fight for justice and cause of others who face violence and unfair treatment for being gay, black or both. Oh, and he sure has upset the city that has hosted him and the Empire show for several years.
After three weeks of police work and tons of resources spent on getting to the bottom of his attack, the entire narrative has been turned on its head. Smollett is in damage control. And he’s “lawyering up.”
As a 25-year PR professional who has helped many clients with crisis planning and management, I can say folks like me often don’t agree with lawyers at times like these.
While I respect and understand the position Smollett’s attorneys must take in defending their client, I certainly don’t agree with them now.
According to a Chicago Tribune story that came out today (Friday, 2/22/19), (on) Thursday night, a statement from Smollett’s legal team called the allegations part of “an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system.”
“The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a mayoral election,” the statement said. “Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
I think Smollett and his legal team will lose their battle in BOTH the court of law and the court of public opinion. The facts coming out strongly point to Smollett having staged the whole attack. Hard to argue against facts and evidence. It looks like he’s betrayed a lot of people and squandered considerable goodwill.
What should Smollett do NOW?!
If he were my client, I’d advise Smollett take these six key, crisis management steps to salvaging what little is left of his greatly damaged reputation:
- Tell his lawyers to quiet down, and take the microphone himself. Not only is it clear the evidence is there, but (I also suspect) most people no longer believe he (or his lawyers) are credible. Smollett needs to stop playing the victim, immediately.
- Admit responsibility. Explain everything he did, why, how stupid and misguided he now realizes it was, and that he wishes he never came up with this terrible idea.
- Apologize and show empathy. Explain how sorry he is. Say how he knows and understands the pain and damage he’s caused to Chicago’s reputation, to the Chicago police force, to his fans, to everyone involved with Empire, and especially to the LGBT and black communities. Tell everyone how sorry he is for letting them down, for being selfish, and for taking advantage of a very real and serious issue.
- Make amends. Offer to donate money to the very communities he’s hurt. To the NAACP, to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and to some of the 22 great LGBT groups outlined in this article. He should go into therapy, and perhaps into addiction recovery if he’s regularly taking certain substances (today’s Tribune story said that he purchased ecstasy from his co-worker). He should talk about how he’s going to take sensitivity training. Smollett should also schedule meetings with representatives from each of the groups he’s hurt.
- Face the music, bravely. While his legal troubles won’t go away, Smollett’s sentence may be much more lenient if he admits wrongdoing and does some of the things I’m recommending above. But, do it soon! Whatever punishment Smollett faces, he needs to take it on the chin as part of his accepting responsibility and making amends.
- Ask for forgiveness. This is much harder to obtain, but he needs to at least ask. And, likely not at first. And, perhaps he’ll receive it. And perhaps he’ll be able to recreate himself.
The public is much more forgiving than most guilty people believe when in a highly stressful situation like this. The sooner Jussie Smollett stops reading from this horrendous hoax script he wrote, ask his lawyers to stop talking, and write a new script, the better off he will be. And so will everyone else.