Robin Roberts is opening up about her decision to take “Empire” star Jussie Smollett’s first interview after his alleged racial and homophobic attack. The ace journalist described it as a “no-win” situation.
Over two weeks after sitting down with Smollett as he gave his first interview following the alleged hate crime he experienced in Chicago on January 29, Roberts got “completely honest” about her feelings, reports Page Six.
Speaking on Monday at The Cut’s “How I Get It Done” event in New York, the ABC reporter confessed she was initially not sure if she wanted to handle the highly-publicized interview.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to sit down with him if he’s going to lawyer up,'” Roberts recalled. “And then I was told, ‘He wants to speak with you,’ [because] he was outraged by people making assumptions about whether it had happened or not.”
According to her, she had the promise that she could query Smollett, 36, on the “red flags” that strengthened doubts about his account of the assault. Roberts, 58, was also told that she’d get new information from him.
“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.'”
But the interview itself was no walk-in-the-park for Roberts who struggled to remain objective despite being openly gay, like Smollett.
“I sit down with him, and I don’t know what he’s going to say,” she said. “Following up [about how] he couldn’t believe people didn’t believe him, well I go, ‘You’re out 2 o’clock in the morning, you’re getting a sandwich, [and] you won’t give up your phone.'”
The “Good Morning America” co-host then shed more light on the inherent pressure she felt to represent the LGBT community.
“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 also addressed folks questioning why she did not ask Smollett about the Nigerian brothers that were later arrested and reportedly confessed to carrying out the attack in line with the actor’s instructions.
Roberts’ interview with Smollett was filmed on February 12 but did not air until two days later when news of the brothers’ arrest broke.
“People are looking at the interview through the eyes of ‘How did you not know?'” she countered. “I did the interview 48 hours before then. Had I had that information or [knew] what the brothers were alleging, heck yeah, I would have asked him about that.”
Smollett was arrested about two weeks ago after the Chicago Police Department slammed him with a felony charge of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report for which he could serve up to three years in prison.
He was released after posting $10,000 of his $100,000 bond and instructed to surrender his passport. His next hearing is set for March 14.
Commenting on Smollett’s arrest earlier, Roberts described it as a "setback for race relations, homophobia, MAGA supporters."
"This touches all the buttons," she added. " I cannot think of another case where there is this anger on so many sides, and you can understand why there would be."
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