Richard Jewell: The Wrong Man

We have had word now of an explosion. A bombing at Atlanta’s Summer Olympics led
to a massive law enforcement investigation, and soon set off a frenzy of speculation. Who is the real Richard Jewell? FBI officials believe he fits a profile of
the type of person who might commit such an act, but concede they have no hard evidence
against him. Can you categorically say that you did not do this? I did not do it. Richard Jewell’s nightmare was a cautionary tale. But what lessons have law enforcement
and the press really learned? It is now clear that the shooter was not Ryan
Lanza, it was his brother Adam Lanza. An earlier report that I had was incorrect
that he was connected with the Tea Party, in fact that’s a different Jim Holmes. Some media outlets were tweeting out that
the shooter was a man named Rollie Chance. When I leave the house, now, uh, I’m looking
over my shoulder. Welcome to Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony of these Centennial Olympic games. In the early morning of July 27th, 1996, more than 100 people were injured and one killed by a bomb blast at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. After the bombing had occurred,
the victims were taken away. I remember very distinctly as the light came up I started meeting some of the people around in the area. And one of the people on the scene was Richard Jewell. Jewell, a former Sheriff’s Deputy, had discovered
the bomb in a backpack and helped clear the area before the explosion.
He was hailed a hero. And I just hope that we catch the people that did it. Following the bombing, there were a lot of suspects. But it wasn’t too far into the investigation where Richard Jewell’s name started surfacing. The president of a college where Jewell had worked security called the FBI to say he had concerns about Jewell. A check into Jewell’s background revealed other witnesses who reported he had a history of employment problems and
was obsessed with law enforcement. Our profilers from Quantico were watching the shows and saying, “We’ve had instances in recent past where police officers invented situations
so that they could be the heroes.” He started to have that, uh, that look about
him. We’ve got the Olympic Games going on. We’re concerned that whoever did it may
do it again if we don’t get a hold of him. It was a lot of pressure to resolve the case very quickly. The assumption was that everyone would keep everything confidential because of the importance of the investigation. In hindsight, that was naïve because, you know,
people like to talk. An unidentified law enforcement source leaked Jewell’s name to Ron Martz’s reporting partner Kathy Scruggs. It was important for us as the hometown paper
to try to verify as soon as possible and put that information out on the street. Word quickly reached investigators. It sped up the timetable on the investigation and what the investigators wanted to do to try to get to Richard Jewell before his name
was all over creation. Law enforcement really wanted to talk with Richard Jewell either to find out if he did it or to clear him. We wanted to create an environment if we brought him in for an interview where he would be comfortable. So when two agents went to talk to Jewell, and he expressed concerns about being interviewed on videotape, they told him it would be used in a training film for first responders. He then agreed to come to Atlanta’s FBI office. I don’t think they were very far into the interview when I received a phone call from the director. And the director said “I want you to stop the interview to warn him of his rights. Do it now.” And so I instructed the assistant special agent
in charge to knock on the door. Alexander later saw on videotape what happened next. The investigation was going along as if it
was a training video for a first responder. At a point the investigators just said, “We
want to make this as realistic as possible” – or something to that effect – “We
are even going to read you the Miranda Rights.” And as they start, the camera is on Richard
Jewell and his eyes widen a little bit, and it’s like there’s a cartoon character
lightbulb going off on top and you realize he’s saying,
“W-wait a minute — am I suspect?” FBI has a suspect – read all about it. The news had already hit the streets when from inside the FBI office, Jewell called a friend who was a lawyer. I asked him if he’d read the newspaper.
He said no, he hadn’t. So I read him the headline. And I said, “Man, they think you did it.”
I asked him if he was under arrest. And they said no, he was not.
And, um, I said, “Great, then he’s leaving.” I remember saying to my editor
“This man’s life will never be the same,” simply because he suddenly was
in the eye of this media storm. Are they letting you go to work? They’re
letting you go to work? You’re free to go? Yes. Did they tell you now not to leave town? No. Can you categorically say that you did not
do this? I did not do this. Categorically? Yes. Television cameras surrounded Jewell’s apartment
as federal agents searched for evidence. It created a circus environment and I’m
sure anger with his attorney. But we had a responsibility to try to figure out whether
he was involved. Some of the coverage, while acknowledging
that Jewell was only under investigation, still cast him in the worst possible light. The hero may be a possible villain. You get a different picture of Richard Jewell
in these North Georgia mountains. He lived alone in this rented home with his Doberman
dogs, most days with the blinds drawn. But behind the scenes, a few investigators
had doubts. I had one of my agents and I believe an FBI
agent redo and watch the interviews in detail and my agent came out, came to me and the first thing he said was, “This guy didn’t do it.” His attorney, whether I agree with it or
not, did not want to cooperate at all with us. It hurt our ability to resolve Richard Jewell in a timely manner. It made him a victim, and it didn’t make us look very good either. Still tailed by FBI Agents and unable to get a job, his only source of income is now a telephone hotline. Two months after Jewell was identified,
he was offered a deal. If he answered investigators questions,
he could be cleared. Once Richard Jewell did come in, it became
very apparent over the next few weeks that there was no reason to charge him. Richard Jewell finally got what he’s been waiting for: a hand-delivered letter from the Justice Department says “based on the evidence developed to date, Jewell is not considered a target”
of the federal investigation. After he was cleared of suspicion, several
FBI agents were reprimanded, including the agent who read Jewell his Miranda rights during the rouse. Jewell pursued legal action against several news organizations, citing, among other things, a column that implied a comparison between Jewell and a convicted murderer, and another that called him a “fat, failed former sheriff’s deputy.” Here’s Richard Jewell, the 114th victim
of the Atlanta Olympic bombing. This is the first time I have ever asked you
to turn your cameras on me. For 88 days, I lived a nightmare.
For 88 days, my mother lived a nightmare too. In its rush for the headlines, that the hero was the bomber, the media cared nothing for my feelings as a human being. NBC, CNN, and the New York Post were among
those which settled for undisclosed sums. But the Atlanta Journal-Constitution fought
the case for fifteen years and won. There’s no way that anybody can convince
me that we libeled Richard Jewell. The information we printed was that he was the focus of the investigation – he was the focus of the investigation. Am I sorry for what happened to Richard Jewell? Yes, I’m sorry for what happened to Richard Jewell. But I don’t feel responsible for what happened to him. I followed the Boston Marathon case very closely
and I was really struck by how far law enforcement has come and particularly their use of technology has come. After a very detailed analysis of photo, video, and other evidence, we are releasing photos of these two suspects. The public will play a critical role in identifying and locating these individuals. In the Boston case, you wanted to bring the
media in at almost every point so that you could get out these leads. Millions across the world saw these photos instantly. Tweeted and re-Tweeted,
Facebooked and Facebook-shared. But social media also made it easier for the
public and the press to quickly spread misinformation and false leads – whether they originated
with law enforcement or not. Crowd-sourced investigations turned into a witch hunt. This missing student was
wrongfully accused of being a suspect. In the last two years, innocent men have been wrongly associated with a number of high profile crimes, including mass shootings in Newtown,
Connecticut, and the Washington Navy Yard. After the Boston bombing, the New York Post,
while not naming these two men as suspects, ran a photo of them at the marathon under
the headline “Bag Men.” Being wrongly accused of an act of terrorism,
is its own kind of nightmare. Ask Richard Jewell,
who went through the media pile-on. The obvious lesson learned from Richard Jewell
is avoid identifying people as a suspect if there’s not really good reason to do so.
Because it can lead to just what happened in Richard Jewell’s case – the identification of someone who, not only was innocent but was a hero. As it turned out, the true perpetrator of
the Olympic bombing remained active. He would go on to bomb
two abortion clinics and a gay night-club in the years following Centennial Olympic Park. The crime scene in Atlanta was a complicated
one to say the least. But we ended up getting a picture of a silhouetted figure on the bench where the bomb was placed. We had the bomber. The problem was the quality was so poor that
you could make out no facial features. I can’t help but think that if we fast-forwarded to today, that we would have had Eric Rudolph’s face on that there and we would have solved that crime quite quickly. Nearly a decade after the Olympic bombing,
Rudolph pled guilty in an Atlanta courthouse. Richard Jewell was there. He gave me a hug and I noticed some of my
former law enforcement colleagues stepping away, because there was just, there was still
something about it. I think there was a feeling that they didn’t want to be associated with Richard Jewell. Jewell eventually found work
as a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia. He died in 2007 due to complications brought on by diabetes. He was 44 years old. People to this day think that he was arrested.
He was never arrested. He had nothing to do with it. Is that the implication that you
should get from responsible reporting?

5 thoughts on “Richard Jewell: The Wrong Man

  • It shocks me that some professors use news clips to provoke discussion, but none have used Retro Reports. I find these are the best for looking at an issue. Looking at all sides, and how the issue has progressed over time. Love this series!

  • what does this have to do with this specific video? Taking a page from Nixon, President Trump is waging his own battle against leaks, which threatens to damage Americans' right to know.

  • This guy should get compensation for this for the rest of his life. The US government pays people for their own bad decisions, it is justified to make sure this man never has to work again if he doesn't work again. That is the price you pay for leaks. It is only fair.

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