The "Empire" star was charged with falsifying a police report and faking a hate crime against himself for publicity.
So many stories have silver linings that we don't see because we're just not looking hard enough. Well, Stephen Colbert squinted directly into the Jussie Smollett story and found a glimmer of one that he found "hopeful."
On "The Late Show" Tuesday night, Colbert tried to break down the latest wild developments in the story that saw all of the charges brought against the "Empire" star dropped abruptly earlier in the day.
"For those of you who have not been following the story, let me catch you up," Colbert said, before mumbling almost incoherently, "I don't know. I don't know what's going on. This doesn't make any sense."
Smollett was charged with falsifying a police report, with authorities claiming he staged a fake hate crime against himself for publicity, hiring two Nigerian brothers to attack him and paying them by check. He then told police he was attacked by two white men who hurled racial and homopohbic slurs against him.
"He said it was a hate crime and I believe him, because I hate talking about this story," Colbert told his audience.
And then, Tuesday morning, all the charges were dropped. Only the police chief, mayor and even prosecutor's office then proceeded to say they still believe Smollett was guilty, even as the actor has been decrying his complete and total exoneration, a comparison to Trump's reaction to the Mueller Report summary that did not get by Colbert.
"We did not exonerate him," the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said in a statement received by NBC News out of Chicago. Instead, they said charges were dropped in exchange for Smollett doing community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond, describing the apparently common practice as "alternative prosecution" so their office can focus its resources on violent crimes.
Colbert joined many Americans and much of conservative media in declaring this development "wrong," but he was also able to see that glimmer of "hopefulness." He just had to look really hard.
"Yes, it is wrong," he said. "But on the other hand, isn't it a hopeful sign for Americans that regardless of your race or sexual orientation, all rich, famous people get off easily?"
He went on to add dramatically, "I believe it was Martin Luther King who said, 'I have a dream that one day, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will hire the very best publicists to leverage their social media profile, escape charges, and then make a big comeback on 'The Masked Singer!'"
Smollett's costars and even the writing team on "Empire" came out quickly in support of the star. His on-screen mother, Taraji P. Henson told USA Today, "I'm happy that the truth has finally been set free, because I knew it all along. We're all happy for him, and thank God the truth prevailed."
"Our son and brother is an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared," said Smollett's family in a statement. But the social media reaction is as divided as ever, and with the case now dismissed and sealed, the truth of the story may never be fully revealed, allowing people to speculate, wonder and doubt for years to come.
In the wake of the initial charges, Smollett was to be written out of the final two episodes of the current season of "Empire," with many fans thinking his character may be killed off. This latest development could change his ultimate fate on the show, as both the network and the show's writers came out in support of the actor.
Could there be a huge twist coming in the season's final scene? "Empire" has four episodes remaining in its fifth season. It airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
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