“Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts has revealed she had hesitations about interviewing “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett about the purported hate crime against him shortly after the January 29 incident.
Roberts interviewed Smollett in an episode that aired February 13, two weeks after the actor said he was assaulted in the early morning hours in his Chicago neighborhood by two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him and tied a rope around his neck. Since the interview, Chicago police have said they believe Smollett staged the attack, and may have paid two brothers $3,500 to carry out the alleged hate crime. Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a fake police report, and the brothers were arrested and released without being charged, before testifying before a grand jury.
Smollett has not spoken publicly since his arrest, but his lawyers have maintained his innocence.
According to the New York Post, Roberts spoke about the interview during a “How I Get it Done” event hosted by The Cut.
“I’ll be completely honest, I was like I don’t know if I want to do the interview or not,” Roberts said, explaining that she didn’t want to do an on-air interview Smollett is he was going to “lawyer up.”
But she overcame her reservations because she recognized that it was a newsworthy discussion, and understood that Smollett wanted to speak to her specifically because he was angry that people doubted his story. The interview was recorded before the two brothers believed to be connected to the incident were arrested.
“They said, ‘He wants to say things that he has not said’ and I’m like, ‘As a journalist, as a newsperson, this is newsworthy, he’s going to go on record for the first time, yes I’ll do the interview,’” Roberts reportedly said, adding that she anticipated criticism no matter how she handled the interview.
“I’m a black gay woman, he’s a black gay man … He’s saying that there’s a hate crime, so if I’m too hard, then my LGBT community is going to say, ‘You don’t believe a brother,’ if I’m too light on him, it’s like, ‘Oh, because you are in the community, you’re giving him a pass.’”
“It was a no-win situation for me,” Roberts said, according to the newspaper.
Roberts also said she would have handled the interview differently if she had known about the alleged involvement of the two brothers and the suspected payoff.
“Had I had that information or [knew] what the brothers were alleging, heck yeah, I would have asked him about that,” she said. “I pride myself in being fair, I know how much work went into being balanced about what had happened and to challenge him on certain things.”
Smollett is free on bail and due back in court on March 14.