Some PR experts predict Jussie Smollett's career is likely 'over' after fake hate crime allegations

Comes the day after the "Empire" actor was released on bail.

February 22, 2019, 3:30 PM

The first career fallout for Jussie Smollett was announced today, but some crisis management experts think that it won’t be the last.

Producers on the television show “Empire” announced Friday that Smollett, the actor who is now facing a felony charge after allegedly staging a hate crime, will not be featured in the show’s final two episodes of the season.

Smollett, 36, and his legal team continues to maintain his innocence, but some experts say he may not be able to hold on to his career.

“I think his career as we know it is over,” said Ronn Torossian, a public relations executive, who is not connected to Smollett.

Torossian, who has represented high-profile clients like Nick Cannon, Sean Combs and Snoop Dogg, said that the incendiary nature of the claims that Smollett made –- alleging that two men attacked him, put a noose around his neck and made racist and homophobic comments –- make it impossible in his view to recover.

“This isn’t just a hoax. This is about a hoax that touches upon race, sex, and politics,” Torossian said.

“I’ve worked on really high-profile crisis issues. I don’t think anybody’s had to work on something like this,” he said.

Vlad Drazdovich, a crisis PR specialist at the firm Red Banyan, said that while the case needs to still unfold in court, he isn’t optimistic for a career recovery for Smollett.

“If the allegations are confirmed to be true, it is very likely that his career is going to be over,” Drazdovich told ABC News.

PHOTO: Jussie Smollett and A.Z. Kelsey appear in the "Pride" episode of "Empire," Oct. 10, 2018.
Jussie Smollett and A.Z. Kelsey appear in the "Pride" episode of "Empire," Oct. 10, 2018.
FOX via Getty Images

“I would say that the moral crime committed there and the ramifications it might have on multiple communities is far greater than the potential legal ramifications that he might face,” Drazdovich said, adding, "the damage of unraveling the collective trust of people, millions of people ... it might linger for years to come and it may continue longer than the one to three year sentence that he may have to serve.”

When it comes to what’s next for the embattled actor, there’s a possible legal strategy, but the public relations moves are a bit murky.

ABC News senior legal analyst Sunny Hostin said on “Good Morning America” that the actor’s defense attorneys “have to take on public opinion.

“I think we're going to see them attacking the police department. I think we're going to see the defense attorneys attacking the evidence, and I think that they have to do that because they only have three options, right: they either go to trial, they either strike a deal, or they try to change the current trend which is everybody feels that he is guilty,” Hostin said on Friday.

Torossian said that “it’s going to be pretty damn hard to get any kind of public opinion on your side,” and doesn’t see how he will have many career paths open in the wake of the criminal case.

“Who would want to book him in a movie? Who would want to book him in a show? Who would want to deal with this headache?” Torossian said.

PHOTO: Jussie Smollett speaks with ABC News' Robin Roberts, Feb. 13, 2019.
Jussie Smollett speaks with ABC News' Robin Roberts, Feb. 13, 2019.
ABC News

Given the widespread interest and outrage over this case, some of the normal public relations practices don’t apply, these experts said.

Drazdovich told ABC News that “we always encourage our clients to tell the truth because nothing disinfects like sunlight,” but he noted that Smollett’s case is complicated by the fact that “he has had several opportunities to sort of come clean and retract his statements and admit that he lied –- if he in fact lied –- but instead he decided to double down.”

Beyond that, Torossian notes that the criminal investigation brings consequences with any type of mea culpa approach.

“He can’t stand up and say he did it: he’ll go to jail then,” Torossian said.

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