Jewell Case Study
By Ronald J. Ostrow
In the early morning on July 27, 1996, with the summer Olympic Games underway in Atlanta, a pipe bomb exploded in the citys Centennial Park, killing two people and injuring 111. In the days following, law enforcement agencies began to focus on a security guard named Richard Jewell, who initially had been praised for helping evacuate the area. The media, particularly the Atlanta newspaper, the Atlanta-based CNN and NBC (which was broadcasting the Olympics) were quick to publish the police suspicions. The Richard Jewell story presented the media with an irresistible "read" the tale of a hero-turned-suspect in the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The case raises major issues about the relations between the press and government sources. We focus on two related issues: Given that police can make mistakes, what level of proof and sourcing is required to say a story is verified? And do journalists have a responsibility balance the publics right to know with the presumption of innocence?
At 12:58 a.m. on July 27, 1996, with the summer Olympics in full swing, the Atlanta Police Department received a 911 call from an anonymous caller saying: "There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes."
The caller, a male, hung up immediately. Police attempted to check the source of the call and otherwise respond. It was too late. At 1:20 a.m., a pipe bomb exploded near a huge sound-and-light tower erected by AT&T, which had become a major attraction for visitors to Centennial Olympic Park. The blast killed two people and injured 111 others.
Before the 911 warning reached the area of the sound-and-light tower where Richard Jewell, 33, was stationed as a security guard, Jewell had noticed a small backpack lying unattended nearby. He pointed it out to an agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who summoned bomb technicians. Jewell participated in helping to evacuate the area as the bomb exploded.
Initially, news reports portrayed him in heroic terms. For example, Katie Couric of NBC said in interviewing him: "You were in the right place at the right time and you did the right thing, Richard."
Just 72 hours after the tragic explosion, however, newspapers, led by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and television networks began reporting that Jewell was not a hero, but instead was the "focus" of the FBIs investigationthe man the bureau now saw as the likely perpetrator.
To assess the performance of the news media in the Atlanta Olympics bombing, it is necessary to reconstruct both the step-by-step progress of the official investigation and the reporting that accompanied it. Daily news reporting almost always involves making decisions under pressurepressures of time, of competition and, frequently, pressures of having incomplete information. All those pressures were present in the Jewell case, but they did not make it unique. What did is the presence of the Olympics, an international event that has the worlds attentionand that particularly of the media worldfocused on Atlanta. Such events are usually a Code Blue for the local media, a moment for those outlets with a special connection to the events to demonstrate their journalistic mettle in the public eye. Reputations are made or broken, journalists often believe, by how you perform when the world is in your backyard. In this case, that focused particularly on three outlets, NBC, which was broadcasting the games, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the hometown paper for the games, and CNN, which, like the paper, is located in Atlanta. Maintaining high standards of accuracy, fairness and balance under pressure is the essential of professional journalism, just as life-and-death situations are the daily norm for surgeons. It is against that expectation that the performance of the news media should be measured in the aftermath of the Olympic bombing. All the more so because, when the story turned in upon Richard Jewell, it was clear that the media would be dealing with an ordinary citizen, not a politician or other veteran of the media wars.
In examining the case, I have relied on thousands of pages of sworn statements from principals in the case. An internal Justice Department report on the FBIs interview of Jewell and tracing the leak of his identity was also considered. For reasons that will become clear later, the Journal-Constitutions lawyer, Peter C. Canfield, ruled out direct interviews of the reporters, columnist, copy editors and management of the paper.
The resulting inability to speak directly with some of those involved has been offset in part by examination of an aborted, but impressive attempt by a Journal-Constitution reporter to examine how her paper handled the Jewell story, as well as by interviews with lawyers for Jewell and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The First Moments
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, news coverage tracked closely the information investigators were gathering and the theory of the case they were developing. It was quickly reported, for example, that the FBI believed the blast was probably an act of domestic, not foreign, terrorism. And the early attention investigators paid to an extremist militia organization in Alabama was reported promptly.
Jewell was interviewed by the Secret Service, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI on July 27, the day of the explosion, and again on July 28. In those interviews, investigators considered him a witness, not a suspect. That began to shift during the afternoon of July 28, when, according to the Justice Department, the president of Piedmont College, Ray Cleere, called the FBI in Atlanta after seeing Jewell interviewed on television.
Cleere raised the possibility that Jewell could have been involved in planting the bomb, basing the suggestion on problems in Jewells earlier record as a policeman at the school. On the strength of this information, the FBI decided to run a background check on Jewell. Agents recalled a case in Southern California not long before in which a voluntary firefighter had apparently set a series of fires to that he could extinguish them and become a hero.
Later the same day, the idea that Jewell was criminally involved was passed along to FBI officials in Washington during a conference call with the Atlanta field office. A participant in the call mentioned that a security guard at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles had planted a bomb on a bus so that he could discover it later and be a hero. FBI headquarters agreed it was logical to conduct a preliminary investigation of Jewells background. But most of the discussion during the regularly scheduled call dealt with other suspects.
That evening, the FBI learned Jewell had been arrested in 1990 for impersonating a police officer and had had employment problems while serving as a deputy sheriff in Habersham County, Georgia, though he had expressed hope during a televised interview that he could get back into law enforcement. On the basis of Jewells previous problems, agents from the FBIs profiling and behavioral assessment unit in Quantico, Va., reviewed videotapes of the young guards television interviews.
By the next morning, July 29, FBI headquarters was advised that the profiling unit agents "concurred with Atlantas assessment that Jewell fit the profile of a person who might create an incident so he could emerge as a hero." In a more detailed written analysis faxed to Washington and Atlanta two hours after the preliminary report, the profiling team said Jewells "account of the bombing seemed vague on important points and that he seemed uncomfortable discussing the victims." The analysts noted Jewell had expressed a desire to become a law enforcement agent and suggested he may have believed that making himself a hero at the Olympic Games would help him land a job in the field.
The profiling agents also said Jewells statement in a televised interview that he hoped to get such a position in Atlanta after the Games was highly inappropriate in the context of a lethal bombing and could indicate a possible motive for planting the explosives. This account of the profiling units conclusions is part of the summary of the FBIs early steps in the investigation done by the Justice Departments internal watchdog unit, the office of professional responsibility.
By the end of the day on July 29, Jewell had become the FBIs "principal (though not the only) suspect in the CENTBOM investigation, the summary said. Puzzlingly, the Justice Departments internal reconstruction says that at this point the Bureau planned to interview Jewell again in the near future, "but it was not considered urgent."
Up to this point, investigators had managed to maintain the confidentiality of their changing view of Jewell, but time was running out. Sometime during the day on July 29, Kathy Scruggs, the Journal-Constitution reporter who covered the Atlanta Police Department, began to pick up hints from police sources that the bombing probe might have taken a new turn. Scruggs, a xx-year-old xxxxx, had been at the Journal Constitution for xx years, most of it xxxxxx. Trying to pin it down, she met with a source after work. The source told her investigators were beginning to look at the security guard in a new light, as a possible suspect. According to one of Scruggs bosses, assistant managing editor for Olympics Thomas M. Oliver, the source told Scruggs that Jewell fit a patternOliver did not recall whether the word used was a "profile"of a wannabe cop with troubled experience in law enforcement.
Whether from this source or not, Scruggs also had heard by this time that Jewells former employer had called law enforcement officials to, as she termed it later, "turn him in."
The source extracted a promise from Scruggs that she would do nothing with the information without his permission; premature disclosure might ruin the investigation, he said. Scruggs says she agreed but added a qualifier of her own: She would no longer honor the commitment and hold back the information if she got independent corroboration. She says the source agreed.
After meeting with her source, Scruggs went back to the office. "I have good new and bad news," Scruggs would tell an editor. "I know who they are looking at, and we cant use it."
Rochelle Bozman, the assistant editor overseeing Olympic security stories, wanted to inform some other reporters that Jewell was a suspect. Scruggs objected, worried that one of the reporters, who was trying to get an interview with Jewell, might tip the security guard off. "I was not in any way going to endanger an investigation," Scruggs would say later.
Oliver, the ranking editor for Olympics coverage, said Scruggs described Jewell as the investigators prime suspect. Oliver said he told Scruggs that "she and we would have to confirm that through other sourcesThe story that she was describing that the authorities were now focusing and suspecting Richard Jewell as the Olympic Park bomber was an enormously important story and needed more than one source before I would feel comfortable in publishing it," Oliver recalled.
Coming to work to start her night shift the next day, Tuesday, July 30, Scruggs was beeped by another source, whom she has identified as a member of the Atlanta Police Department. He, too, told her investigators were looking at Jewell as a possible suspect. She asked how her source knew that, and he replied it was being talked about inside the department and "everybody knows it." Scruggs says she was not surprised that the information about Jewells new status was spreading. "When something like this happens," she said in an interview for the Journal-Constitution account that was never published. "A lot of different people get involved . . . It is not the secret that they think it is because an FBI [agent] may be friends with an Atlanta police [officer], and they will talk to them, and you see, it becomes fodder for law enforcement."
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh later expanded on the point when trying to explain to a Senate committee why the Bureau had been unable to identify the law enforcement source who leaked the information that Jewell had become a target of the investigation. "We identified approximately 10 agencies outside of the FBI who had individuals who were knowledgeable about his identity before it was releasedover 500 investigators, prosecutors," Freeh said. "Each of those people and each of those agencies has separate chains of command, so the secondary universe is much bigger."
With the knowledge that Jewell was being talked about as a suspect throughout the Atlanta Police Department, Scruggs felt she was no longer constrained by her pledge to withhold the information. Her first source had agreed she could use it if she obtained independent corroboration. Accordingly, she advised her editors that they needed to report the new development. Another reporter on the paper who was covering Olympic security, Ron Martz, had already been working his federal law enforcement sources for information on the bombing. He helped Scruggs construct the story.
Scruggs and Martz based part of their story on their instincts. They were experienced journalists with good law enforcement sources. Those sources, moreoverat least two of them and later threegave essentially the same information. This was also a sensational and unexpected turn in a story that was being pursued by every major news organization in the country. In such circumstances, papers like the Journal-Constitution feel enormous internal pressure to "own" the storyto be first with every important new development. To be beaten by an outside news organization in your own backyard is the ultimate competitive humiliation.
In addition to law enforcement sources who would not let their names be used or the agencies identified, Scruggs and Martz had two other slight but possibly corroborating pieces of information. The paper had dispatched a 22-year-old intern named Christina Headrick to stake out the apartment complex where Jewell lived. There she saw several men in plain clothes watching the apartment through binoculars. It was not until after the story was out, though, that Headrick confirmed that the men were FBI agents.
Headrick also knocked at the apartment door; she says Jewell refused to open the door and told her to come back when his mother returned. Jewell, Headrick thought, sounded scared.
In addition to Headricks effort, Martz says he made several telephone calls to Jewells apartment, but the phone rang unanswered and there was no opportunity to leave a message.
The two reporters, Scruggs and Martz, sat down to write the story with Scruggs at the computer and Martz looking over her shoulder. Scruggs lead with what she saw as the clearest key factthat the hero had now turned into a suspect.
The phrasing was not so simple. Martz had been told that Jewell was not the only one under scrutiny. He was "a prime suspect" but "there were still other individuals that they (law enforcement) were looking at as possible suspects," Martz would recall. Scruggs, too, understood that Jewell was "a suspect." As the story went through the editing process, Scruggs, Martz and Managing Editor John Walter talked about what word to use, Scruggs would say later. Should they call Jewell a "suspect," "focus" or "target?"
While others were under suspicion, Martz at least thought Jewell was the lead suspect. Walter decided the story should use the word "focus," Scruggs would recall.
The lead of the finished story read:
"The security guard who first alerted police to the pipe bomb that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park is the focus of the federal investigation into the incident."
In Scruggs mind, the wording gave Jewell the benefit of the doubt. The word focus was "a less damning word, a less strong word," than suspect.
Scruggs second sentence in the lead said Jewell also "fits the profile of the lone bomber."
Martz had one source for this. The source, Martz would explain later, had told him that "there was a profile of a lone bomber" and that Jewell fit it. He didnt know who had compiled it, but he assumed it was FBI. The information seemed solid. Scruggs sources pointed in the same direction. She knew there was some sort of profile. And both reporters believed this was a key factor in the thinking of law enforcement officials now, and needed to be high up in the story.
The third key element in the story was that Jewell had been approaching news organizations trying to make himself into a celebrity. This was connected, as Scruggs and Martz understood it, to the "profile" of a lone bomber who wanted to engineer his own heroism.
In their initial draft, Scruggs and Martz wrote that, "Jewell has become a celebrity in the wake of the bombing, making an appearance on the Today Show." As the story was being edited, Burt Roughton, a reporter in charge of non-sports Olympic news, added another sentence after that. "He (Jewell), also has approached newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seeking publicity for his actions."
A key issue as they wrote involved attribution. On this, the managing editor of the paper, John Walter, made an important decision.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a policy against using anonymous sources. It requires a managing editor to waive the prohibition.
The reasoning behind the banand the reason that most news organizations consider the use of anonymous sources a sensitive matteris that readers or viewers have no way of evaluating for themselves the unnamed sources reliability or possible biases.
Walter decided that Scruggs should use what the paper calls the "voice of God" approach when it came to attributing the information. The voice of God approach means that the paper would not attribute the story to unnamed sources. Rather it would take the responsibility on itself, implying that not only has the paper learned these things, but vouches for their accuracy.
As Walter explained later, he didnt think attributing the story to unnamed sources "was fair." The reason, he said, is that "once you start introducing sources, then you can have those sources do anything you want. They can speculate wildly. And so I felt safe, I felt better without that word in there." In other words, if the paper took the responsibility itself, because it had multiple sources and was confident it was right, it was more authoritative than if it hung it on some anonymous source who might or might not be someone with real authority.
The fact that suspicion about Jewell had become so widespread among law enforcement sources also made the journalists at the paper comfortable on some other fronts. Neither Walter, Scruggs nor Martz had any real worry they were being used to "sweat out" a suspect, that is put the pressure of public notice on him to get a confession. Nothing about this story had the feel of a coordinated leak.
As Scruggs finished roughing out her story, managing editor Walter still wanted some more verification and asked Martz to get it. Martz moved to a quiet section of the newsroom and called a federal law enforcement source, who the reporter says had not given him information on the investigation prior to this call. After reading him the story verbatim, including the headline, Martz asked if there was anything inaccurate in the account. The source, described by some Journal-Constitution staffers as a federal law enforcement source and by others as an FBI source, responded that he was not familiar with Jewells background in Habersham County, but that otherwise the story contained nothing inaccurate.
Martz says he then asked if there was anything in it that would hinder the investigation in any way, and "the source indicated to me that there were other media outlets that were getting ready to go with basically the same story that afternoon, and the source said that basicallynot in so many wordsbut in so many words said that it is out already. At this point it is not going to hurt us." The source also expressed concern that the headline "was perhaps a bit strong," but said there were qualifiers that he was not prepared to judge.
With Martzs confirmation, the Journal-Constitution ran the story naming Jewell as a suspect in a replated extra edition on Tuesday July 30. The banner headline over the story said:
"FBI suspects hero guard may have planted bomb"
The body of the story that followed said:
"The security guard who first alerted police to the pipe bomb that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park is the focus of the federal investigation into the incident that resulted in two deaths and injured more than 100.
"Richard Jewell, 33, a former law enforcement officer, fits the profile of the lone bomber. This profile generally includes a frustrated white man who is a former police officer, member of the military or police wannabe who seeks to become a hero.
"Jewell has become a celebrity in the wake of the bombing, making an appearance this morning at the reopened park with Katie Couric on the Today Show. He also has approached newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seeking publicity for his actions.
"He has told members of the media that he spotted a suspicious knapsack near the tower that was damaged in the blast. He said he reported the find to the GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] agent and helped move people from the area.
"FBI agents are reviewing hours of professional and amateur video tape to see if Jewell is spotted setting down the military-issue backpack that contained the bomb. Acquaintances have told agents that he owned a similar knapsack. Agents have not seen Jewell in NBC tape of the 20 minutes following the blast.
"Three undercover law enforcement cars were parked outside his mothers apartment off Buford Highway this afternoon. He refused to open the door when a reporter from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution knocked.
"Jewell resigned two former law enforcement jobs in north Georgia, the latest at Piedmont College on May 21. He also was a deputy sheriff at the Habersham County Sheriffs Department, where he received bomb training.
"Just before the Olympics, Jewell got a job with Anthony Davis Associates, a Los Angeles security firm hired by AT&T after the company dismissed Borg-Warner Security Corp. after allegations of theft by employees.
"Investigators are checking to see if his voice matches that of a 911 caller who phoned in a warning of the park bomb. The call was placed from a phone a few minutes walk from the park.
"Agents also are checking an earlier report from a plumber that pipes were stolen from his construction area near the park."
The paper did not just print the story. It went into its afternoon press run and remade, or as termed in the printing trade, "replated" the front page.
Martz was not the only one who had been told other news organizations were preparing to report Jewells transformation from hero to suspect. The FBI had been planning to conduct a non-confrontational interview with Jewell some time on July 30, to be followed the next day by a confrontational interview and possibly a polygraph test.
But the interview was moved up to earlier that day, according to the Justice Department, when "throughout the morning the Atlanta (FBI) Division learned that information concerning Jewell as a suspect may have been leaked to the media. The Atlanta Division was concerned because they did not want Jewell to know at the time he was interviewed that he was a possible suspect because that would undermine the non-confrontational approach.
"Jewell was not just a possible suspect; he was also a potentially valuable witness," the Justice Departments office of professional responsibility said. "Jewell could have been silenced by the allegations in the media. Knowing that, the FBI decided that Jewell should be interviewed as soon as possible."
When two agents arrived at the parking lot of Jewells mothers apartment where he was staying, they noticed a local television news crew and quickly pulled away to check with superiors. Almost three hours passed before the agents were instructed to try to contact Jewell, despite the media presence. By the time they returned, the Journal-Constitutions replated extra had hit the streets, and the apartment complex was "swarming with media teams," the Justice Department report said. When the agents talked to Jewell, he agreed voluntarily to be interviewed at the FBI offices downtown; he drove his own truck to the session, saying he was afraid reporters jamming the parking lot would think he was in custody if he rode with the agents.
The questioning downtown was cut short by Jewells friend and initial attorney, G. Watson Bryant, Jr., but not before the agent conducting the interview committed what the Justice Department later described as "a major error of judgment." He administered Miranda warnings to Jewell, saying he was doing so only because the Bureau was making a training video on what he called "first responders" to scenes of calamities. The ruse endangered the investigation, the Justice Department said, because a judge might well have ruled later that Jewells waiver of his rights against self-incrimination was not voluntary, knowing and intelligent as required by law. In that event, any incriminating statements he might have made would have been inadmissible as evidence, along with anything else the statements had lead investigators to discover.
The extra edition also included a story on an inside page by Kent B. Walker, who, as one of two interns assigned to the Olympics, had interviewed Jewell sometime earlier. The story was headlined "Bomb suspect had sought limelight, press interviews." It contrasted what it said was Jewells expectation that he was going to shake President Clintons hand because of his action at the park with the conclusion that chances of anyone shaking his hand were in fact remote, now that he was suspected of planting the fatal bomb himself.
"Investigators now say that he may be a hero wannabe who planted the bomb so he could discover it later," the story said.
Walkers sidebar, like Roughtons insert alleging that Jewell had contacted the paper in search of attention, adds to the impression that this was news coverage being shaped to fit a conclusion. If Jewell had gone from hero to suspect, then everything should support that ideaeven if, as Walter suggested later, it was far from clear how serious a suspect Jewell was.
Whether reporters at the Journal Constitution knew it or not, by July 30the day of the first story naming Jewell as a suspectlaw enforcement investigators were already coming to the conclusion that one of their suspicions about Jewell was unfounded. The investigators had all but ruled out that Jewell had placed the 911 warning call to police before the bombing. They knew the precise time of the call and where it was made. They also knew Jewells whereabouts just before the explosion. The physical distance from the bomb site to the pay phone in question was too great for Jewell to have placed the call and returned to the scene in time to report the knapsack, police had concluded. If anyone at the Journal Constitution knew this, the papers national exclusive on July 30 made no mention of it.
The Role of Television
Not far from the paper, another news organization also viewed the Olympics as a huge local story on which they should not be beat.
An executive by training but a journalist by instinct, Tom Johnson, the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times, had immediately taken charge of the networks newsgathering on the bombing. He deployed as many of his staff as he could to bring eyewitnesses into the CNN building for debriefings, often before police interviewed them, and to find amateur videos of the explosion. "One thing I learned switching from print to television is the value of amateur video," Johnson told Tom Goldstein, the future dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, in a 1996 reconstruction of the story.
On the same day the bomb went off, CNN President Johnson directed Henry Schuster, an experienced CNN producer, and Art Harris, a CNN investigative reporter to "find out who did it."
When the Journal Constitution ran its story naming Jewell as the focus, Schuster and Harris were telling Johnson that they were honing in on Jewell as the suspect. Working the web of local, state and national sources they had developed while doing months of advance research on Olympic security, Harris and Schuster had identified inconsistencies in Jewells story and were convinced he was a suspect. "We knew law enforcement was putting him under a microscope," Harris would tell Goldstein. "This was one of the most sourced things we have ever done," said Schuster. "This was not a simple leak."
As they debated whether to go with a story at CNNs headquarters, which overlook Centennial Park, Johnson took a call from an AJC editor, alerting him that their replated extra was being published. A CNN staffer was sent to get a copy of the paper, and Johnson called a source in Washington. "My source sold me, This is the guy, and I never found my source to be wrong."
CNN went with the story, first reading the 10-paragraph story from the AJC. CNN President made that decision. "I take total responsibility, I made the call to run the story," he told Goldstein.
Within an hour, CNN had apparently confirmed most of what the paper had published and was now running a story attributed to its own sources. Johnson believed and still does that CNN had covered "every conceivable base." But Earl Casey, CNNs senior vice president for domestic newsgathering, said he did not think CNN was quite prepared to go with the story until the AJC story was published. He made this comment on a Nightline special Aug. 22, 1996, while also noting that CNN had separate confirmation of the turn in the investigation.
With the CNN disclosure, the story was now global, or "out there," in the parlance of the 24-hour-a-day news culture.
Meanwhile, one other TV network had a sense of home field over the bombing story. NBC was carrying the Olympics, and most of its news personalities were in Atlanta for the event.
NBCs reporting was, as Goldstein has put it, "all over the place." Shortly after Jewell was named as the focus, Brokaw said in a news broadcast: "The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case in their language. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case."
By that first Tuesday night, July 30, Brokaw was not talking about "the speculation." Instead, he reported that Jewell was "on the short list of suspects." By the next morning, NBC correspondent Pete Williams on the Today Show elevated him to the "top of their list right now." But Katie Couric seemed to backpeddle slightly in her language, saying that some things about Jewell "might fit the profile" of the bomber. That night, Wednesday, Brokaw said that Jewell was "still the central focus." Correspondent Fred Francis suggested that "if the FBI has a case against Richard Jewell, it is moving very, very cautiously after a lot of fanfare." But then Pete Williams, highly regarded for his sources in the FBI and Justice, said that "it was possible that an arrest could come as early as tomorrow."
Brokaw would later say on CBS 60 Minutes that he had "very high-ranking federal law enforcement officials in Washington and in Atlanta" who had confirmed the story. He also noted that the report included the qualification: "Please, understand absolutely that he is only the focus of this investigation. Hes not even a suspect yet." This despite the language used in other broadcasts to the contrary.
The day after Jewells name surfaced, CNNs "Crossfire" show, in a program ostensibly exploring the question of whether Jewell might be another victim of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, engaged in its own form of bashing. Bill Press, challenging the suggestion that Jewell did not have to be named in the early reports, said: "just hours before we found out hes a suspect, he was basking in all the media glow, going to every radio station, every TV station that would have him and basically painting himself as a hero and a boy scout and enjoying the attention. Now, the fact that this guy, whom were all admiring and worshipping, then is named a suspect, are you telling me that is not a story?"
Whether Jewell sought the news media or the news media sought Jewell is, of course, a matter of continuing dispute. Under the circumstances, it is hard to imagine that at least some reporters had not pursued him. He was, whatever else, an eye-witness and his role in trying to clear the area has never been challenged.
On the same program two days after Jewell had been named as the focus of the probe, CNNs Press said: "Were accused of destroying the reputation of Mr. Jewell. I read today that Mr. Jewell has been arrested in the past forhes charged with impersonating a police officer. He was called an over-zealous enforcer of the law, made arrests way outside his jurisdiction. He wrecked a police car racing another police officer down a mountain. His former employer, the county sheriff, said: Cant say too much good about him." He did a pretty good job of destroying his own reputation, first, didnt he, Larry?"
Larry Sabato, professor of government at the University of Virginia: "You know, Bill, thats a great example of what happens when some poor soul, and Im going to assume hes innocent until its proven otherwise, some poor soul wanders into the media spotlight, because thats what happens. I remember the fellow who deflected the gun from President Ford out in California in 1975 and he saved the presidents life and within 48 hours, a newspaper had revealed to his family, who didnt know, that he was gay"
Day Two, July 31, 1996
On the second day, following the initial story naming Jewell as the suspect, Scruggs and Martz led the final edition of the Constitution with a story headlined:
"'Hero' denies planting bomb"
The story contained Jewells denial when he was asked by reporters whether he had planted the deadly bomb: "No, sir. I didnt." It also quoted his attorney as claiming the FBI told him Jewell was not a suspect or target of the probe. The FBI would not confirm the statement. Jewell was quoted further as telling reporters: "Im sure theyre investigating everyone who was in the area. To be honest, hearing that from yall, I dont know whether thats fact or fiction."
The article reported Jewells difficulties at Piedmont College, whose president had called authorities after watching Jewell on CNN. As a member of the campus security force, Jewell had been considered erratic and somewhat excitable, the paper quoted Cleere as saying, and had quit when he was asked to move back to part-time work from full-time employment.
Jewell had also run into difficulties on earlier jobs with the Habersham county sheriffs office, the paper said. He had begun work there as a jailer. Later, the paper reported, he had been charged with impersonating a police officer and, while serving as a patrol deputy, he had gotten into trouble for colliding with a squad car.
Inside that same paper, additional stories drove home the point. The headlines read.
"CHANGE OF FORTUNE: I just hope I never had to go through anything like this again
Security guard had reputation as zealot
A motive? Most seek glory, power or revenge
(which was headlined in a different edition as
Motive? Could be sociopath, attention seeker
Crimes committed by guards plague security industry
The Kindred Column, August 1, 1996
No single account offended Jewell and his defenders more than a column by Dave Kindred that ran on Aug. 1. Kindred had watched FBI agents load cartons of material into their vehicles after searching and vacuuming the apartment where Jewell had been staying in an effort to find evidence, especially of bomb making. The scene, Kindred thought, was reminiscent of the examination of the apartment of Wayne Williams, the notorious serial killer who was convicted of murdering two children in 1979 and 1981. Kindred wrote:
"He sat in the shadows with his back to the world. He wore a white T-shirt, white shorts and black sneakers. Occasionally, he turned his thick body and looked through the staircase toward the firing line of cameras, every lens fixed on him.
"He sat on the stairs outside his mothers apartment because, inside, federal agents were at work.
"They brought in a dog, a ladder and boxes. A white van with Virginia tags unloaded members of the FBI Evidence Response Unit.
"They were at work executing a search warrant in Apartment F3 at the Monaco Station Apartments, 3649 Buford Highway. He sat there, waiting.
"He sat seven miles from Centennial Olympic Park.
"Hero or fool, he sat on the steps and leaned to his right to make room for agents passing on the staircase. An agent might sit with him awhile, talking about whatever FBI agents talk about with men who are suspects in murderous bombings.
"Once upon a terrible time, federal agents came to this town to deal with another suspect who lived with his mother. Like this one, that suspect was drawn to the blue lights and sirens of police work. Like this one, he became famous in the aftermath of murder.
"His name was Wayne Williams.
"This one is Richard Jewell.
"He sat with his back to us as two dozen federal agents did their work. They started at 9 oclock Wednesday morning. By 2 oclock, they had come from the apartment with only one box of stuffa search either painstakingly slow or simply frustrating.
"The crowd of reporters and photographers waited across a small parking lot. A television helicopter arrived, circling the encampment for a few minutes. On the second-floor landing above Apartment F3, two FBI agents could be seen in conversation.
Reading the body language," said Dave Husse, a television photographer from Los Angeles KABC, "the agent in the blue shirt there has been up all night and hes saying, Were not finding anything.
"And the other guy is on the cell phone every 10 minutes to Washington saying, We cant put a guy in jail with what weve got here.
"He sat with his back to us. Hed sat with network television stars this week. Now he sat in the shadows, alone, making room when a neighbor, Leonard Shinew, came down the stairs, pausing to put his hand on the mans shoulder.
"I just said, Are you all right, Richard? Shinew said. "He said, OK." "Shinew is 78 and has lived in the Monaco complex 10 years. "Richards just a regular fella. If you needed something done, who should you ask? Richard. Get my car started. Give me a ride somewhere. Regular fella, and I dont want him and his mother to have to move out. Theyre good neighbors, like everybody here."
"Maybe the regular fella had nothing to do with the bomb; the FBI has often sat on a suspect and come up empty. But when the FBI sat on Wayne Williams in 1981, it gathered enough to convict him for two murders and to clear 20 more.
"Ken Hawkins remembers. A free-lance photographer who covered Williams and now works this story, he said, "Did you see the FBI take those little vacuum cleaners into Jewells apartment? Its exactly what they did with Wayne Williams. And, like this one, they were at Williams place all day."
"Richard Jewell sits in the shadows today.
"Wayne Williams sits in prison forever."
Kindred would later say that he had not intended to liken Jewell to Williams in the Aug. 1 column, and he did not believe he had done so. He also said he was not concerned about listing the address of Jewells mothers apartment address in the column. "The detail . . . I like details," he explained.
As a matter of journalistic style, the column by Kindred, a former sportswriter for the Washington Post, belongs to a genre of urban color writing in which detail is piled on detail to create a mood or feel for a scene. It is not news reporting, nor is it meant to be. Kindred described his column as a "city column."
In this case, though, some within the Journal-Constitution itselfincluding four copy editors who later would say that they had raised questions at the timehave been critical of what Kindred did to Jewell. Nowhere did Kindred directly equate Jewell with Williams; indeed, the columnist noted that the FBI had "come up empty" before. Whatever the words say or do not say, however, the impression left in readers minds is indeliblethe linking together of a suspect not arrested or charged, let alone convicted, and a man serving a life sentence for the cold-blooded murders of two children.
Copy editor Sharon Bailey, who had primary responsibility for handling the column, would later say that she had spotted "material in it I thought was problematic . . . I thought it was possible that we could be sued over some of this material." When she expressed her concerns to George Edmonson, assistant managing editor for news, Bailey said he said he would take a look at it. But Edmonson, who said he didnt think there was a problem with the Kindred column and would run it again, says he relayed the concern to Managing Editor John Walter in a telephone call. But Walter said he did not recall that telephone conversation.
Another copy editor, Anita Harkins, said she tried to discuss her concern about the columns fairness with night editor James Mallary. She said his response was "something along the lines of Well, its a Dave Kindred column." Mallary, seemingly distracted, remarked that they were having problems with the color printing on the front page.
A third copy editor, Patricia Koester, was sitting across from Harkins and remembers calling up the column on her computer at Harkins request. She said she told her colleague, "I think this column is libelous and we need to kill it." Her reasons: "The references to Wayne Williams and the missing and murdered childrens case and the fact that the person being talked about wasnt charged."
On the same day the Kindred column ran, the paper did a separate story headlined "Reports say agents backing off." It noted that two television networks had "suggested" in their reporting that federal agents suspicions of Jewell might be diminishing. On the same page was a story sketching out Jewells law enforcement work at Piedmont College and as a Habersham county deputy sheriff. The headline: Police work was his life. Some in North Georgia town say Jewell was on a power kick. There were three other related stories on the page:
Homemade evil: Bombs formula is far from secret
Guard had only low-level credentials
Experts to plot 911 callers voice print
The next day, August 2, the new-found note of caution was sounded again. The pendulum was beginning to swing back toward balance. The Journal-Constitution was beginning to edge away from the idea that Richard Jewell was unquestionably the villain of the piece. Its main news story on the bombing that day ran beneath this headline:
Guesswork isnt proof: Bomb case could be far from cracked
The Aftermath, August 3, 1996 and Beyond
In the days that followed, the paper continued to report on the progress of the investigation, but increasingly it conveyed the idea that Jewells guilt was not entirely settled. On Aug. 10ten days after naming him as the focus of the FBI probethe paper reported Jewells criminal defense lawyer arguing that it was physically impossible for his client to have made the 911 call, given his known whereabouts at the time of the Olympic Park blast. "The theory of a person setting off a bomb to become a hero doesnt work if you have an accomplice," Jewells criminal defense lawyer said. The story said federal officials would not say whether they believed two people were involved in the bombing or whether the 911 call and the bombing were unrelated. An FBI spokesman would say only: "Were still looking at a number of suspects."
That day, the paper ran two bomb-related stories that focused on issues other than the bombers identity. One explored the question of why a backup 911 system was not used when transmission of the call to authorities on the scene was delayed. Another reported that explosive experts thought investigators had learned exactly how the bomb was constructed. It said the device had been made of three galvanized steel pipes, but only one went offa failure that was attributed to incorrect fusing or an inexperienced bomb maker counting on a chain reaction, which the experts said did not happen with pipe bombs.
The story on bomb technology was used as a vehicle to make another point as well: It noted almost in passing that, although Jewell had been questioned repeatedly and his hair samples and fingerprints had been obtained by the FBI, he had not been publicly named a suspect. It also quoted the FBI as saying it was looking at a number of possible suspects.
Then on August 20, the Journal-Constitution reported that Jewell had passed a polygraph examination in which he denied any involvement in the bombing. The examination had been conducted by a retired FBI polygraph expert, Richard Rackleff, who was paid by Jewells attorneys. "He didnt do it," Rackleff was quoted as saying. "Theres not any doubt in my mind. He had no knowledge about the bomb . . . The tests show he absolutely was not involved."
The story quoted the head of Atlantas federal public defender office as vouching for Rackleffs qualifications and integrity; the next days editions of the paper tempered those assurances by noting that Rackleff had previously "cleared" an admitted child molester and a man convicted of hiring a business associate to kill his wife.
A few days later, on August 23, the paper reported an ABC News poll that found a large majority of Americans believed Jewell had been treated unfairly by the media. Part of a Ted Koppel special entitled "The Bizarre Case of Richard Jewell," the poll showed 69% of respondents agreed that the media treated Jewell unfairly, 25% thought he had been treated fairly and the other 6% had no opinion. The poll found people to be more evenly divided on the question of who was responsible for damaging Jewells reputation: 41% blamed the media, 32% law enforcement and 25% holding both responsible.
Not long after that, Barbara Jewell attended a news conference called by her sons attorneys and urged President Clinton to intervene and exonerate him. "My son has no life . . . He is a prisoner in my home, the Journal-Constitution quoted her as saying before breaking down in tears and leaving the podium. Three days later it was reported that the White House declined comment and Attorney General Janet Reno refused to exonerate Jewell or apologize to his mother, though the Attorney General did add, "I understand how she must feel."