Robin Roberts has defended her badly timed Good Morning America interview with actor Jussie Smollett, saying she agreed to sit down with the Empire star before Chicago police accused him of filing a false police report.
Speaking at the Cut’s “How I Get It Done” event in New York on Monday, Roberts said she felt like the interview was a “no-win situation” for her because of the identities she and Smollett share as black LGBT people.
“I’m a black gay woman; he’s a black gay man,” Roberts said. “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.'”
Smollett appeared on Roberts’ morning show last month to defend himself against people who didn’t believe he was attacked. In clips heavily promoted by the network, the actor maintained his innocence and said he was "pissed off" by those doubting him.
But at the same time the interview was airing, Chicago police officers were questioning two brothers who allegedly told them Smollett had paid them to stage the attack — information that detectives later described as a turning point in the case.
Roberts said she “would have asked him about that” had she been privy to the information.
But she did also reveal that she initially had some reservations about accepting Smollett’s request for a sit-down interview.
“I’ll be completely honest, I was like, 'I don’t know if I want to do the interview or not,'” she recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t want to sit down with him if he’s going to lawyer up.’”
The morning show host said she ultimately decided to do the interview because she was promised that she’d be able to press Smollett on some of the questionable parts of his story.
“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,'” she said.
After Smollett's arrest, GMA staffers defended Roberts’ “bad optics” interview to BuzzFeed News last month, with one person saying, “There’s not really a spirit of regret about the Jussie interview.”
“No one feels that Robin got duped,” the source said. “Taken advantage of, yes, but not duped.”
In the end, the longtime anchor said her sit-down with Smollett “was one of the most challenging interviews [she's] ever had to do.”
Smollett faces a maximum of three years in prison if convicted.