I have an idea for a film: there’s a young black actor in a hit TV show who hears a rumour that he is about to be written out of the series. The film begins with the actor, (let’s call him “Jessie”), sitting in his agent’s office.

“Look, I’ve been hearing things. Give it to me straight, am I out?”

“Jessie, Jessie, everybody loves you baby. You’re great. It’s just that the network are looking to take things in a new direction, freshen things up a little, you know? Don’t take it personally.”

“But what am I gonna do? The show is my life!”

“Look, I’ll be straight with you Jessie, It’s tough out there right now, but if anything comes up, I’ll let you know. You’ll be my first call, you have my word on that. Oh, look at the time, Jessie baby I gotta get on, got a call coming through from Marty. Look, keep in touch OK, and good luck. You’re the best Jessie! I love you! Shut the door on your way out.”

In desperation “Jessie” concocts an elaborate plot to salvage his career. He pays two of his friends to stage a mock lynching, complete with noose, and allows himself to be somewhat roughed up, to add to the authenticity. The ‘attack’ is reported to police as a racist and homophobic hate crime, his story ‘goes viral’, and he attracts much droolingly sympathetic coverage from the pliant media. He appears on talk shows to tell his distressing era-defining story, playing his new role as the latest victim of the bigotry and hatred of Trump’s America to perfection.

Sacking him from the show now becomes unthinkable, his part is even expanded, and he is flooded with new offers. The final scene bookends the opening but with a twist; this time the actor is sitting in a producer’s plush office being gushed over by studio executives. They tell him that they have big plans for him and offer him the lead role in a big new project.

“Say, why don’t you come over to the lake house this weekend? Couple of people I’d like you to meet. Marty’s got a thing he thinks you could be right for.”

The film ends with a focus on the actor and producer shaking hands. Large measures of bourbon are poured. Glasses are chinked. Jessie exits the office with a broad satisfied grin.

Too far-fetched? Maybe, but not if the reports surrounding the extraordinary story of Jussie Smollet are to be believed – the actor now faces a felony charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report after he claimed that two men attacked him last month. This “King of Comedy” style tale is the talk of the town stateside, and whatever eventual truth emerges the fact that the idea of an orchestrated racist and homophobic attack being used as a career booster is so credible tells us much about the combustible nature of identity politics, not to mention the unhealthily parasitic relationship between the media, politics, and the entertainment industry.

The Smollet story comes hot on the heels of the misreported stand-off between a Native American and the schoolboy Nicholas Sandmann in Washington D.C. Initial reports were based on a truncated video clip, which ignited self-righteous fury among the liberal commentators, woke celebrities and anyone else happy to be dragged along in the slip stream of the great social justice movement with its army of keyboard warriors forever poised to batter the keys to denounce those that dare transgress the articles of the new progressive faith.

You can compile a fairly lengthy list of these hair trigger media reactions to minimal information. On this side of the Atlantic we had the slew of hate incidents/crimes apparently provoked by the EU referendum, which after basic investigative journalism was conducted proved to be nothing of the sort. Mini tornados were whipped up, caused much localized damage, then blew themselves out, leaving behind a few wrecked lives and a poisoned public discourse.

There is nothing new about people being drawn to stories that confirm their own prejudices, and we are all surely guilty of that to some extent, but what is still relatively fresh is the speed with which news is transmitted, received and digested. 24 hour news cycles have developed their own internal momentum, the rhythms of which can only be maintained by a steady injection of attention grabbing content increasingly focussed on identity driven outrages of one sort or another. The public has been tuned to expect an almost daily serving of scandal to endorse our outraged and splenetic world view.

And it’s not just a public appetite that is being served, but a political one too. Witness the parade of public figures who sought to weaponize the Smollet story (Nancy Pellosi, Kamala Harris), or Nicholas Sandmann (House Representative Debra Haaland), or our own dubious Brexit hate crime reports (Diane Abbott, et al, ad nauseam). Our elected representatives feed off this stuff too, and use it to batter their opponents and advance their own agendas/careers.

Former journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstie in their book Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media, refer to this phenomenon as the “journalism of assertion”, a frenzied rush to judgement rather than a careful consideration of facts and healthy skepticism of the emotional impact of first impressions. Traditional journalistic values, such as verification, proportion and relevance are being sacrificed on the altar of a ravenous public appetite for sensationalism and ruthless business imperatives.

Meanwhile real people are hurt, the reputation of journalism and the quality of debate takes a hit, and, as Douglas Murray has pointed out, real stories risk being overlooked or underreported as we all obsess about a few poorly reported, overblown, or even fabricated accounts that owe as much to Hollywood as they do the real world.

Basically, there’s enough hate out there already; no need to create any more.

I’m not sure about the ending of my Jessie/Jussie film treatment. I think I might tack on another scene after “Jessie” leaves the film producer’s office. One of the executives could say to the other:

“You do know the kid faked the attack, don’t you?”

To which the reply, and final lines of the film would be:

“Of course I know. But you know what they say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.

The end.