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R. Kelly due in Chicago court to face sex abuse charges

R. Kelly, the R&B star who has been trailed for decades by allegations that he violated underage girls and women and held some as virtual slaves, is due in court Saturday after being charged with aggravated sexual abuse involving four victims, including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17.

In a brief appearance before reporters, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx on Friday announced the 10 counts against the 52-year-old Grammy winner, whose real name is Robert Kelly. She said the abuse dated back as far as 1998 and spanned more than a decade. She did not comment on the charges or take questions.

Kelly was driven to a Chicago police station in a dark colored van with heavily tinted rear windows around 8:15 p.m. Friday. He did not respond to questions from gathered reporters as he walked inside the building.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted a short time later that Kelly was under arrest. He was expected to be held overnight before an appearance Saturday in bond court.

Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg, told reporters following the singer's arrest that one of the charges he faces appears to be tied to a decade-old child pornography case.

"Double jeopardy should bar that case," Greenberg said. "He won that case."

Kelly, who was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, has consistently denied any sexual misconduct.

Greenberg said he thinks prosecutors rushed to judgment Friday in charging Kelly, calling the singer "an innocent man."

"Mr. Kelly is strong," Greenberg added. "He's got a lot of support and he's going to be vindicated on all these charges."

The arrest sets the stage for another #MeToo-era celebrity trial. Bill Cosby went to prison last year, and former Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein is awaiting trial.

Best known for hits such as "I Believe I Can Fly," Kelly was charged a week after Michael Avenatti, the attorney whose clients have included porn star Stormy Daniels, said he gave prosecutors new video evidence of the singer with an underage girl.

At a news conference earlier Friday in Chicago, Avenatti said a 14-year-old girl seen with R. Kelly on the video is among four victims mentioned in the indictment. He said the footage shows two separate scenes on two separate days at Kelly's residence in the late 1990s.

During the video, both the victim and Kelly refer to her age 10 times, he said.

Avenatti said he represents six clients, including two victims, two parents and two people he describes as "knowing R. Kelly and being within his inner circle for the better part of 25 years."

"I don't know what the tape is," Greenberg said of the video Avenatti gave prosecutors. "We haven't seen it. No one's showed us the tape."

The new charges marked "a watershed moment," Avenatti said, adding that he believes more than 10 other people associated with Kelly should be charged as "enablers" for helping with the assaults, transporting minors and covering up evidence.

The video surfaced during a 10-month investigation by Avenatti's office. He told the AP that the person who provided the VHS tape knew both Kelly and the female in the video.

The jury in 2008 acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges that arose from a graphic video that prosecutors said showed him having sex with a girl as young as 13. He and the young woman allegedly seen with him denied they were in the 27-minute video, even though the picture quality was good and witnesses testified it was them, and she did not take the stand. Kelly could have gotten 15 years in prison.

Charging Kelly now for actions that occurred in the same time frame as the allegations from the 2008 trial suggests the accusers are cooperating this time and willing to testify.

Because the alleged victim 10 years ago denied that she was on the video and did not testify, the state's attorney office had little recourse except to charge the lesser offense under Illinois law, child pornography, which required a lower standard of evidence.

Each count of the new charges carries up to seven years in prison. If Kelly is convicted on all 10 counts, a judge could decide that the sentences run one after the other — making it possible for him to receive up to 70 years behind bars. Probation is also an option under the statute.

Greenberg said he offered to sit down with prosecutors before charges were filed to discuss why the allegations were "baseless." But they refused, he said.

"Unfortunately, they have succumbed to the court of public opinion, who've convicted him," he said.

Legally and professionally, the walls began closing in on Kelly after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and the multipart Lifetime documentary "Surviving R. Kelly," which aired last month. Together they detailed allegations he was holding women against their will and running a "sex cult."

#MeToo activists and a social media movement using the hashtag #MuteRKelly called on streaming services to drop Kelly's music and promoters not to book any more concerts. Protesters demonstrated outside Kelly's Chicago studio.

As recently as Thursday, two women held a news conference in New York to describe how Kelly picked them out of a crowd at a Baltimore after-party in the mid-1990s when they were underage. They said Kelly had sex with one of the teens when she was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol and could not consent.

Latresa Scaff and Rochelle Washington were joined by lawyer Gloria Allred when they told their story publicly for the first time.

In the indictment, the prosecution addressed the question of the statute of limitations, saying that even abuse that happened more than two decades ago falls within the charging window allowed under Illinois law. Victims typically have 20 years to report abuse, beginning when they turn 18.

The singer and songwriter, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, rose from poverty on Chicago's South Side and has retained a sizable following. He has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. His collaborators have included Jay-Z and Usher.

Kelly broke into the R&B scene in 1993 with his first solo album, "12 Play," which produced such popular sex-themed songs as "Bump N' Grind" and "Your Body's Callin'."

Months after those successes, the then-27-year-old Kelly faced allegations he married 15-year-old Aaliyah, the R&B star who later died in a plane crash in the Bahamas. Kelly was the lead songwriter and producer of Aaliyah's 1994 debut album.

Kelly and Aaliyah never confirmed the marriage, though Vibe magazine published a copy of the purported marriage license. Court documents later obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times showed Aaliyah admitted lying about her age on the license.

Jim DeRogatis, a longtime music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, played a key role in drawing the attention of law enforcement to Kelly. In 2002, he received the sex tape in the mail that was central to Kelly's 2008 trial. He turned it over to prosecutors. In 2017, DeRogatis wrote a story for BuzzFeed about the allegations Kelly was holding women against their will in Georgia.

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Associated Press Writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.

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More of The Associated Press' coverage of the investigations into R. Kelly can be found at:  https://www.apnews.com/RKelly .

Kim, Trump impersonators draw ire of Vietnam's authorities

Vietnamese authorities are not amused by the antics of two impersonators of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

The duo has been making rounds of Hanoi, taking pictures with curious onlookers ahead of the second summit of the two leaders next week.

However, on late Friday, a Kim lookalike, the Hong Kong-based impersonator who uses the name Howard X, posted on Facebook that about 15 police or immigration officers demanded a mandatory "interview" with them following a talk they gave at the state-run VTC station.

"They then said that this was a very sensitive time in the city due to the Trump/Kim summit and that our impersonation was causing a 'disturbance' and ... suggested that we do not do the impersonation in public for the duration of our stay as these presidents have many enemies and that it was for our own safety."

According to Howard X, there was a back-and-forth with an unnamed Vietnamese officer who "did not seem pleased with my answer" and threatened the impersonators with deportation, saying they were breaking immigration rules. Finally, he said they were driven back to their hotel and told to stay put until authorities decide how to treat them.

"Although I am not surprised that I got detained for doing my impersonation in Vietnam, it's still pretty annoying. What it shows is that Vietnam has a long way to go before they will be a developed country and I wonder if they ever will under these conditions," he wrote on his Facebook page. "If the Vietnamese authorities are willing to give this kind of harassment over something as trivial as an impersonation to a high profile foreigner, imagine what all the Vietnamese artists, musicians, film producers and all the political activists have to endure for simply wanting to release a controversial film, songs or for simply speaking up about real injustices in this country."

Vietnam is a tightly controlled communist country that tolerates no dissent.

Howard X was also questioned by Singaporean immigration authorities when he and his colleague appeared in the city-state for the first Kim-Trump summit last June.

The impersonator's real name is Lee Howard Ho Wun.

Flowers from Meghan Markle's baby shower donated to charity

Flowers from Meghan Markle's New York baby shower are getting a second life.

WNBC reports that the flowers from the Duchess of Sussex's shower on Wednesday were donated to Repeat Roses, an organization that gives flowers to charities.

The American Cancer Society says Meghan's flowers were donated to cancer patients around the city.

One of the recipients was the cancer society's Hope Lodge. The facility provides free lodging to cancer patients traveling to New York for treatment.

Friends including Gayle King and Amal Clooney joined Meghan at her shower at a Manhattan hotel.

The 37-year-old American actress became a British royal when she married Prince Harry last year. She is due to give birth to the couple's first child in April.

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Information from: WNBC-TV, http://www.nbcnewyork.com

Case against R. Kelly may be stronger this time

Tears streamed down R. Kelly's cheeks as a court official read a jury's not guilty verdict to all 14 counts of child pornography at his 2008 trial in Chicago. The R&B superstar had successfully dodged up to 15 years in prison and likely financial ruin.

Eleven years later, Kelly, now 52, is headed back to the same Cook County courthouse to face even more serious charges . He's due in bond court Saturday, when a judge will decide if he can be released on bail pending trial.

A grand jury indictment unsealed Friday charges him with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. In 2008, there was one alleged victim. This time, there are four — including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17 when the abuse allegedly occurred.

Most critically, this time, prosecutors seem to have victims willing to cooperate. If convicted, the Grammy Award-winning singer could be sentenced to up to 70 years behind bars.

Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday that his client is devastated to be facing charges once again.

"He is extraordinarily disappointed and depressed," he said. "He is shell-shocked by this."

He added that prosecutors had "succumbed to the court of public opinion, who've convicted him," adding that Kelly looked forward to being acquitted at another trial.

One of Kelly's victims in the new case was allegedly assaulted by him within just a year or two after his 2008 trial ended; the other allegations date to the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to the indictment.

Prior to the 2008 trial, prosecutors didn't state publicly why they chose not to charge and try Kelly for sexual assault. But legal experts widely agreed it had to do with victim's unwillingness to testify. Child pornography was, or should have been, far easier to prove even without an alleged victim cooperating.

At the heart of that child pornography trial was a VHS recording that prosecutors said showed Kelly, in his 30s at the time, having sex with a girl as young as 13 sometime between 1998 and 2000.

Prosecutors played the 27-minute VHS tape — entered as "People's Exhibit No. 1" — nearly every day for jurors during the monthlong trial. In it, a man has sex with a young female, who is not wearing any clothes for most of the recording. He speaks to her in a hushed voice, and she calls him "Daddy." At one point, the man urinates on the girl.

There are indications video evidence may be available in the new case. Attorney Michael Avenatti said he recently turned over to prosecutors a VHS tape of Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old. He said the girl is one of the alleged victims in the new case against Kelly.

All prosecutors had to prove at trial in 2008 was that the girl was underage, that it was, in fact, Kelly in the video and that he had possessed the recording. At a future trial, prosecutors may enter video evidence, but proving the charges would depend first and foremost on testimony of victims.

The atmosphere of intolerance for sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, may have emboldened Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx leading up to charges. And the loss at trial in 2008 stung the office, before Foxx headed it, said Monu Bedi, a professor at the DePaul University College of Law

"Her office may feel justice wasn't done and they may want to take another stab at it," he said.

Kelly's attorney earlier criticized Foxx for using strong language in a public statement in January to characterize the allegations against Kelly before charges, saying it potentially showed bias against the singer.

Foxx was speaking to reporters after watching a Lifetime documentary examining a history of abuse allegations Kelly, and she made an appeal for any victims to come forward.

"I was sickened by the allegations. I was sickened as a survivor," she said last month. "I'm sickened as a mother and I'm sickened as a prosecutor."

One Chicago defense attorney, Phil Turner, said he didn't think the new case would be a legal slam dunk, saying cases of alleged abuse dating back 20 or even ten years raise questions about the accuracy of memories. He also said he was concerned Kelly was targeted by prosecutors primarily because of recent media attention, including the documentary.

"If he really is a serial predator, there should be something more recent, right?" he said. "Why not look for those? You could then at least use the old allegations to corroborate the new stuff."

Turner also said Foxx opened herself up to accusations of poisoning the potential jury pool by commenting on the allegations in January.

Kelly's across-the-board acquittal in 2008 stunned many legal observers, and a future Kelly trial team may try to use similar defense strategies.

Prosecutors then faced high legal hurdles they ultimately could not surmount, despite what appeared to be compelling video evidence. While grainy, it was otherwise good quality and the man appeared to be Kelly.

Defense lawyers in 2008 focused on Kelly's insistence that the man in the video was not him. They showed jurors that Kelly has a large mole on his back but played excerpts of the video in which a mole was not visible on the man appearing on the screen.

One of Kelly's attorneys, Sam Adam Jr., told jurors during closings there was no mole on Kelly's back and that meant one thing: "It ain't him. And if it ain't him, you can't convict."

Kelly's alleged victim, who by then was around 23, did not testify. She denied before trial that she was on the video. Instead, prosecutors relied on friends of hers and four relatives to identify her as the girl in the video. Prosecutors also called on Kelly acquaintances who said the man in the video was clearly Kelly.

Jurors who spoke to reporters after the trial ended said they had difficulty convicting someone when the alleged victim didn't testify. One said jurors had reasonable doubts about the identity of the people in the video.

"What we had wasn't enough," said one juror.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

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See the AP's full coverage of the investigations  into R. Kelly.

R. Kelly's European concerts in doubt after new charges

R. Kelly's hopes of doing a tour of Europe in April have been all but dashed now that he is facing new criminal charges.

Kelly defiantly scheduled concerts in two locations in Germany and one in the Netherlands in April despite a cloud of legal issues in the wake of the recently aired Lifetime documentary series "Surviving R. Kelly" that delved into his alleged history of sexually abusing young women and girls. Kelly has denied engaging in sexual misconduct.

But the concerts appear to be scuttled with Friday's charges accusing him of sexual abuse involving four victims.

Even before the charges, venues and promoters abroad were feeling heat to cancel future concerts by the R&B star.

Activists from the #MeToo and #MuteRKelly social media movements have been using the renewed attention around the documentary to press overseas venues to scrap planned Kelly shows. Oronike Odeyele, co-founder of the #MuteRKelly movement in Atlanta, said activists knew of Kelly's planned European performances and were tipped off to his attempts to get picked up by promoters in Latin American countries.

"We're trying to make sure that doesn't happen, and still trying to put the word out there," Odeyele said.

The European concerts were the only confirmed concert dates for Kelly, 52. The Germany shows were scheduled in Neu-Ulm and Hamburg and a third one was slated to be held in Amsterdam.

Ratiopharm Arena in Neu-Ulm warned on its Facebook page that it could shut down the concert if "new facts" emerged.

"We have the possibility to unilaterally cancel the contract with the organizer if R. Kelly is sentenced by a court or if he or his management (concedes) to the allegations," Ratiopharm Arena spokesman Richard King wrote in response to emailed questions from The Associated Press prior to Friday's announcement of charges.

Ratiopharm Arena did not immediately respond to messages about the new charges.

The April 12 concert was originally scheduled to take place in the town of Ludwigsburg in southwestern Germany. But in late January — after the Lifetime documentary aired in the United States — the organizers canceled that venue and moved it to nearby Sindelfingen.

Organizers of the Sindelfingen concert later canceled due to massive online protests. The online petition, called #RKELLYSTUMMSCHALTEN or "silence R. Kelly," had been signed by more than 230,000 people.

The second Germany show was scheduled on April 14 in Hamburg. The operator of the Sporthalle Hamburg arena told the AP that the venue tried to cancel its contract with Kelly's representatives to no avail. The arena said it was up to the organizer, Thomas Bernard.

"Talks with the organizer to cancel the concert amicably, were not successful," Daniel Gritz, spokesman for the city's district of Hamburg-Nord, wrote in an email. "It is therefore up to the organizer to evaluate whether it is opportune to let the concert take place as planned on April 14."

Bernard did not return messages seeking comment, but he issued a statement to ARD public television in Germany last month that stood by the decision hold the concerts.

"Kelly has many fans worldwide, who want to experience the artist and his music live. Everybody can decide freely if he wants to visit the concert or not," the statement said.

Both the Hamburg and the Neu-Ulm venue operators said they could not comment on the number of tickets sold so far.

J. Noah, the booking agency organizing the April 20 Amsterdam show, did not immediately return messages about the new charges. J. Noah boasts on its website that it's has helped book artists like Lil Wayne, Cuban Doll and The Game.

Earlier this month, Kelly announced tour dates in Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka in a tweet but then deleted the post. It was not known how far long concerts had been planned for those countries or if they were canceled after the airing of the "Surviving R. Kelly" documentary.

Kelly has performed overseas a number of times. He did a show in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on New Year's Eve 2010. He also performed at the World Cup in 2010 before the opening soccer match between South Africa and Mexico in Johannesburg, South Africa. He toured throughout Europe as part of his 2011 Love Letter Tour.

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Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Associated Press writer Errin Haines Whack in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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More of The Associated Press' coverage of the investigations into R. Kelly can be found at: https://www.apnews.com/RKelly .

Reports: Atlanta rapper T.I.’s sister, Precious Harris, has died

Precious Harris, sister of Atlanta rapper T.I., has died.

>> Read more trending news

TMZ reported that sources close to the family said Precious Harris had been on life support since the accident and was never responsive. 

Earlier this week, Harris “hit a pole, which triggered an asthma attack. The 66-year-old — who often appears on the show — was taken to a hospital.

T.I. and Tiny “were devastated,” TMZ reported

Precious Harris’ daughter, Kamaya Harris, posted a tribute to her mother on Instagram.

Fans of the family were quick to offer sympathy on social media.

T.I. and Tiny had reportedly halted production on their VH1 reality show, “Family Hustle,” while the rapper’s sister, Precious Harris, was in the hospital, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

>> Read more trending news 

Tameka “Tiny” Cottle posted a photo with her sister-in-law on Instagram, asking for prayers, as did Precious Harris’ daughter, Kamaya. 

The Atlanta couple, who had been having marital trouble the past couple of years but appear to be back together, took time out of their worry to celebrate Valentine’s Day. T.I. gifted his wife a canary yellow diamond ring.

'American Pie' singer objects to coverage of ex's exhibit

Don McLean's former wife has launched a photo exhibition about domestic abuse that includes a copy of the protection order issued against him, and the "American Pie" singer is threatening to sue a weekly newspaper that wrote about it.

Don and Patrisha McLean divorced after a domestic incident in their Camden, Maine, home in 2016. McLean pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault, which was dismissed after he met the terms of a plea agreement.

He also paid a fine of a few thousand dollars after pleading guilty to three other charges: domestic violence criminal threatening, criminal restraint and criminal mischief. Those remain on his record.

Patrisha McLean is using her exhibit, "Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse," to draw attention to domestic violence by sharing victims' stories. The Free Press of Rockland wrote about the exhibition at the Camden Public Library on Feb. 7.

The Press Herald reports that McLean's attorney then threatened to sue The Free Press and accused Patrisha McLean of "vicious misstatements." The Free Press removed the story online so lawyers could review it but later reposted it.

Patrisha McLean told The Associated Press that Don McLean's threat of a lawsuit is "shocking to everybody, but not to me." She said her exhibit is important for survivors because it's about "domestic abuse that we kept silent about for decades, and sometimes decades ago."

McLean's attorney, Eric Morse of Rockland, did not return a call to The Associated Press seeking comment.

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This story's headline has been corrected to make clear Patrisha McLean is Don McLean's ex-wife, not his current wife.

Nikki Sixx Discusses Motley Crue's Cover of Madonna's 'Like a Virgin'

Bassist originally thought recording 1984 hit was a "really horrible idea," even though it was his idea.

Continue reading…

Diane von Furstenberg fetes female Oscar nominees

Even with rain clouds threatening from above, the spirits, and heels, were high at Diane von Furstenberg's idyllic Coldwater Canyon property Thursday afternoon.

The famed fashion designer and philanthropist had invited all the female Oscar nominees to gather at her home before the Academy Awards Sunday for an event that gave new meaning to the term "power lunch."

Attendees roaming the impeccably groomed grounds, lush and green from the recent rains in Los Angeles, included 50-some nominees, like actresses Melissa McCarthy, Glenn Close and "Roma's" Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, "RBG" directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, "Free Solo" filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, "Black Panther" production designer Hannah Beachler and "A Star Is Born" producer Lynette Howell Taylor, as well as film academy governor Laura Dern, and Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley.

Von Furstenberg is a film buff — "Roma" was among her favorites this year — and has hosted this event for the past five years, although this year was notable for the sheer number of women nominated.

"As women, we know that we don't have the luxury of just doing our work," film academy CEO Dawn Hudson told the women gathered after lunch in von Furstenberg's living room. "We get to do our work while changing the world. It has to happen simultaneously."

Hudson touted 2019 female nominees, which she said was the largest group in academy history .

"But we don't have directors! We don't have cinematographers," von Furstenberg interjected. "We have a long way to go."

Even with the film academy's push in recent years to diversify membership, the ranks are still 69 percent men and 84 percent white — which is significantly more diverse than it was just a few years ago.

"The numbers are trending in the right direction, but we have a lot of work to do," Hudson said.

She encouraged all the attendees, now part of the academy's 1 1/2-year-old Women's Initiative, to sign up to take an aspiring filmmaker to lunch.

Every nominee got a chance to introduce themselves to the group, too, as a microphone was passed around from actresses to producers to directors to sound mixers. McCarthy, standing in the back of the room with "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" screenwriter Nicole Holofcener broke ranks a bit in the format and got everyone laughing.

"Hello I'm Melissa McCarthy. I'm a Virgo," she said.

Close followed suit: "I'm a Pisces, my life has been so difficult."

In addition to celebrating the nominees, the luncheon was also partially in support of the upcoming Academy Museum (Furstenberg is a member of its board of trustees.)

"I encourage you to support one another and I also encourage you to support the museum that is happening," Furstenberg said. "It's a big, big deal that the film academy did not have a museum."

Dern said that she's been dreaming of a film museum in Los Angeles for her whole life. At 8 years old, she remembers telling her godmother, actress Shelley Winters, that she wanted to learn about film for her birthday.

"(Winters) turned to my mother and said, 'Are you (expletive) kidding me? The only place I can take her is the Hollywood Wax Museum?" Dern said. "So we've been waiting for a really long time to have a place where all of your stories are told."

The board is making an effort to highlight the often-overlooked contributions of women to early cinema, like filmmaker Alice Guy-Blache.

Ava DuVernay joined the event a little later. She had been at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon beforehand and apologized for not having prepared remarks.

"There were 200 black women gathered to celebrate themselves in an industry that doesn't celebrate them," DuVernay said. "As I left, I thought, we should all be together. I hope that one day we'll have a room like that."

Langley and Close were among many who nodded vigorously. Some even shouted, "Yes!"

"But for today, I thank you, Diane, for creating a room like this," DuVernay said. "It's really rare to see your sisters like this. It feels good to be here."

And with that, von Furstenberg, invited all the "goddesses" to dessert.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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For full coverage of the Oscars, visit: https://apnews.com/AcademyAwards

Social media provides fuel for Jussie Smollett story

The story Jussie Smollett told police had it all: racism, homophobia, politics, celebrity — all tied up with a hangman's noose. There was no question the news coverage was going to be massive.

In many ways, that coverage is an object lesson in the foibles of modern reporting. The story showed where news outlets teeter on the line between driving social media and being driven by it, between healthy skepticism and cautious credulity.

"We have the combination of social media and a polarized country converging here," said Charles Whitaker, interim dean of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Everyone is seeing events "from their political lens. No one is really good at distancing themselves."

The story began as an account of a hate crime that went viral instantly.

A star of the hit Fox television show "Empire," Smollett reported that he had been attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 on his way home from a sandwich shop. Smollett — who, like his character, is black and gay — said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and placed a rope around his neck.

He also claimed they shouted, "This is MAGA country" — a reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."

National media soon got wind of the story. Social media poured rocket fuel on it and set it ablaze.

Celebrities including "Empire" co-star Vivica A. Fox and Oscar winner Viola Davis tweeted their love and support. Talk show host Andy Cohen, who is also gay, tweeted simply: "This. Is. Vile."

Within hours, now Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — both African-American — compared the attack to an "attempted modern-day lynching." Even President Donald Trump seemed to take the story at face value.

But as police searched for surveillance footage of the attack, people began to wonder. Two men seen in a video went from being persons of interest to suspects, then to witnesses against Smollett.

It all came crashing down Thursday, when the 36-year-old actor turned himself in and was charged with felony disorderly conduct, an offense that alleges he made a false police report. Police claim Smollett staged the attack, enlisting two brothers who were his friends because he was unhappy with his salary.

After Smollett was charged, it seemed people who had been holding back suddenly felt free to admit they had doubts all along.

CNN anchor Don Lemon — who met Smollett during a guest appearance on "Empire" — said his initial reaction to the attack was not disbelief but "sadness."

"I wasn't shocked," Lemon, a black man who came out as gay in 2011, told "Entertainment Tonight." ''I didn't like that it happened to him."

As police waited for Smollett to surrender, Lemon acknowledged Wednesday on CNN that many in the gay and African-American communities "had questions about this from the very beginning, the veracity of this story."

It was minus 4 degrees that night.

"And let's be honest," Lemon said, "there are probably not a whole lot of MAGA fans watching 'Empire.'"

But Smollett stuck to his story. And until a couple of weeks in, the media had nothing but a "gut" feeling to go on, said Tom Jones, senior media writer for the Florida-based Poynter Institute.

"I think most of the media handled it responsibly, saying, 'Hey look. Here's what the allegations are. Here's what he's saying. Here's what he claimed happened. And then we'll see where the investigation goes from here,'" Jones said.

"The word 'alleged' was all over any reference from the moment it was first reported," Northwestern's Whitaker added. "I didn't hear a lot of really super-sympathetic coverage."

Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro disagrees. He told Fox News that the volume of coverage on Smollett was "enormous" because "there's a narrative to be promoted."

"When a story is too perfect to be true, it usually is, and this is one of those cases," he said.

Joe Saltzman said the Smollett story was a case of sheer "overkill," even in this era of the 24-hour news cycle.

"This is not good journalism," Saltzman, a professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, wrote in an email. "This is gossip and chatter."

Robin Roberts, anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America," came in for some of the harshest criticism for a Feb. 14 exclusive interview with Smollett. Many accused her of failing to push him hard enough.

On Thursday's show, Roberts called the situation a "setback for race relations," adding that she "cannot think of another case where there is this anger on so many sides, and you can understand why there would be."

Trump's sympathy for Smollett also evaporated. "What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?" he tweeted Thursday, tagging the actor.

Earlier this week, as Smollett's story began to unravel, his siblings took to Instagram.

"This is the media, an irresponsible media," Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Jocqui Smollett posted, using a picture and slightly altered quotation from slain civil rights leader Malcolm X. "It will make the criminal look like he's the victim and make the victim look like he's the criminal."

Smollett is free after posting $10,000 in bail, and his attorneys said he maintains his innocence. On Friday, he was cut from the final two episodes of this season of "Empire."

During a news conference announcing the charges, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson surveyed the packed room of reporters.

"I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention," he said angrily.

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Breed reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Check out the AP's complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.

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