TOPICS > Nation

Olympic Park: Richard Jewell, Another Victim

October 28, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The bomb that exploded at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta July 27th first made Richard Jewell a hero. He spotted the green knapsack that contained the pipe bomb minutes before it exploded. He alerted police and helped move people away from the site. One person was killed and one hundred and eleven injured by the crudely-made device, but Jewell’s days of glory ended three days later when the “Atlanta Journal Constitution” rushed out an extra edition headlined “FBI Suspects Hero Guard May Have Planted Bomb.”

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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: CNN was next. An anchor read the “Atlanta Journal Constitution’s” story verbatim on the air. Other TV networks followed suit, identifying Jewell as a key suspect in the bombing.

JIM LEHRER: An Olympic security guard is a suspect in last Saturday’s bombing.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The NewsHour, citing the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” also ran the story July 30th and showed a picture of Jewell. The next day the media descended on Jewell’s apartment in Atlanta. TV cameras recorded FBI agents coming and going, removing his personal belongings. An FBI spokesman said they were taking routine steps.

DAVID TUBBS, FBI Spokesman: This search is part of an ongoing investigative process and does not indicate in any way that Mr. Jewell has been charged with a crime under our system of justice. Mr. Jewell has not been placed under arrest and has not been charged with any crime.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In the following days and weeks a torrent of articles and TV stories purported to analyze Jewell’s life. There were interviews with psychologists who described how Jewell fit the profile of a “lone bomber.” Articles traced his on- and off-again career in law enforcement, with some stories suggesting professional frustrations might have driven him to crave national attention. During this time, the FBI never detained, arrested, or formally charged Jewell with a crime. The FBI said it had other leads to investigate in the bombing, but no other suspects were identified. For the rest of the summer Jewell under investigation. On the rare occasions when he left his mother’s apartment, the media followed close behind. In August, his mother gave a press conference describing the son’s ordeal.

BARBARA JEWELL: The media has descended upon us like vultures upon prey. They have taken all privacy from us. They have taken our peace. They have rented an apartment which faces my home in order to keep their cameras trained upon us around the clock.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In recent months, Jewell’s lawyers have gone on the offensive to clear their client’s name. Jewell passed a polygraph test arranged by his lawyers and gave a six-hour interview to the FBI. Attorney Lynn Wood appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on October 9th.

LIN WOOD, Jewell’s Lawyer: (October 9) If they are satisfied, as we believe they should be, that he is no longer a viable suspect, they will issue a letter which states that he is no longer a subject or target of the investigation and we hope will also contain some language indicating that the U.S. Attorney regrets what’s happened to this man and to his mother.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Justice Department sent that letter to Jewell on Saturday. It states that “Based on the evidence developed to date, Mr. Jewell is not a target of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing investigation.” And it continues “Barring any newly discovered evidence, that status will not change.” Today, Richard Jewell held a press conference in Atlanta.

RICHARD JEWELL, Former Olympic Security Guard: For 88 days, I lived a nightmare. For 88 days, my mother lived a nightmare too. Mom, thanks for standing by me and believing in me. I love you. Today is a new and different day. Part of my nightmare has ended. The criminal investigation is over. Now I must face the other part of my nightmare.

While the government can tell you that I am an innocent man, the government’s letter cannot give me back my good name, or my reputation. The difficult task of trying to restore my reputation begins today as I try to tell you something about the Richard Jewell that you do not know. I am a citizen with rights, just like everybody else. I am a human being, with feelings, just like everybody else. In its rush to show the world how quickly it could get is man, the FBI trampled on my rights as a citizen. In its rush for the headline that the hero was the bomber, the media cared nothing for my feelings as a human being. In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother.

On the evening of July 27, 1996, at Centennial Olympic Park, I did not set out to be a hero. I set out that night simply to do my job and to do it right. I was then and remain now an individual committed to the principles of law enforcement and the protection of the public. I was trained to spot the unattended packages and to report such packages to the next person in security chain of command. That is what I did on the 27th of July. All I did was my job. The media started calling me a hero. I did not consider myself a hero. The bomb technician who crawled on his belly and got next to the bomb was a hero.

The officers who took the shrapnel by placing their bodies between the package and where the people were in the park were the heroes. And then the FBI and the media decided to portray me as the bomber. It was like being broad-sided. Anybody who knew me understood that I could never hurt another person. I love people. I love children. I am a public servant. I felt numb, sick, I was in shock and felt helpless. As the days passed, I kept waiting for the FBI to uncover the evidence that would point them in the right direction. But it did not happen because they were looking in the wrong direction. They were still looking at me.

You, the media, were looking too. Your cameras trained on my mother and me, your cameras and the FBI followed my every move. I felt like a hunted animal, followed constantly, waiting to be killed. The media said I fit the profile of a lone bomber. That was a lie. The media said I was a former law enforcement officer, a frustrated police wannabe. That was a lie. I was then and am now a law enforcement officer. The fact that I was between jobs and took a position as a security guard at the Olympics did not change that fact. The media said I was an overzealous officer.

That was a lie.

I always perform my job to the best of my ability and give 110 percent. That’s not being overzealous; that’s being dedicated. The media said I ought to–the media said I sought publicity for my actions. That was a lie. I did not seek to be called a hero, and I did not seek any publicity for doing my job. AT&T wanted the publicity, not me. I have read the search warrant affidavits, and I have either read or heard all the many things that have been said about me to try and make me look like a bomber. It was all a lie. Now that I have received the government’s letter I feel a sense of relief, even though I don’t think the fact I have been cleared has fully sunk in. After 88 days of hell, it’s hard to believe that it is really over.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now to a discussion of the Jewell case. We’re joined by Marvin Kalb, a longtime journalist and now director of the Shornstein Center on Press and Politics at Harvard University, Skip Brandon, a former FBI deputy assistant director, who has overseen the agency’s worldwide counter terrorism efforts, and Marvin Miller, an attorney in the Washington area and a director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Mr. Miller, was injustice done here?

MARVIN MILLER, Criminal Defense Attorney: I think there’s no question about it. You have a situation where the FBI used a tactic that you’ve seen in countless cases over the years of leaking information that benefits them in a number of ways and really doesn’t do anything to their investigation. They were acting on a profile. They wanted the profile to have credibility. It had not previously been used directly in a case, and they wanted to have the public acclimated to it. In most federal courts you don’t get an opportunity as you do in many state courts to question witnesses thoroughly. It’s done by the judge very superficially. And they do these kinds of leaks to try and build an atmosphere or gestalt, if you will, in the public that will end up being on the jury pool.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you think this material was leaked with an eye towards influencing the jury.

MR. MILLER: Well, I’ve been involved in cases where they had analysis of press coverage of their press releases. And I’ve seen them at work in releasing information and holding press conferences not for informational purposes but solely for the purpose of shall we say trying the case in the press.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that? What do you think the FBI was doing here? Do you think, first of all, that the FBI did leak the name?

SKIP BRANDON, Former FBI Official: I don’t know whether the FBI leaked the name or not. It probably was leaked, and that’s inexcusable. That shouldn’t have happened. I think that Mr. Miller probably is getting a little far beyond the facts in this case. It would not make any sense to me as an investigator when you’re beginning an investigation to leak the name of a suspect. For example, they later searched Mr. Jewell’s apartment, and it doesn’t make any sense for a good investigator to tell the person you’re going to search that you’re going to come after him, that they are a suspect. It gives them time to get rid of evidence. So I just–I don’t think it makes any sense in this case at all.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think an injustice was done here? Do you think the FBI did what it had to do, given the evidence available?

MR. BRANDON: I think the FBI went about their investigation in an appropriate manner. I go back to the thing and say it was inexcusable whomever leaked the name, it was totally inexcusable. I think we probably have to look at the media and see how they handled the name of the suspect, not a subject, a suspect.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But just to get–you think it’s a possibility that the FBI was pursuing this investigation, that somehow somebody else, let’s say local law enforcement, or somebody else got the name, and that’s how it was leaked, is that what you’re saying?

MR. BRANDON: That certainly could have happened. Unfortunately, I can’t reject the possibility that it came from somebody within the FBI. I think the question is intent. An intentional leak just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And how unusual is it for the FBI to release a statement like the one released Saturday that we heard quotes from in the set-up piece?

MR. BRANDON: Fairly unusual. I believe it came from the Department of Justice. There are letters sometimes to people who say they’re not the target, for example, of a grand jury investigation. Uh, it’s fairly unusual for this to happen. It’s usually done only in a circumstance where unfortunately somebody has been publicly identified.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Kalb, turning to the press aspect of this, do you think that an injustice has been done to Mr. Jewell by the press?

MARVIN KALB, Harvard University: (Boston) That’s very hard to say, Elizabeth. It seems to me that at the very beginning, the press was doing its job. Three days into the process, the press went into a kind of media frenzy, and at that particular point, the press was not doing Mr. Jewell, the facts, the case, anybody any great service.

But at the very beginning, if we could separate press into two parts, at the very beginning, what would a normal journalist do, a normal editor do, if you have a major story against the backdrop of the fear of terrorism after Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center, that was a factor in any journalist’s mind, and suddenly you have either the FBI or a local police officer leaking information to a reporter that this individual is a suspect. That’s a big story, and it would be remarkable, to me, if in the early days the “Atlanta Constitution”–“Journal Constitution” and CNN, both of them based in Atlanta, did not go with that story in a significant way.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although it is true, isn’t it, that some papers have, uh, guidelines that say you don’t give a name unless the FBI will go on the record or charge the person or the local law enforcement will charge them?

MR. KALB: That is absolutely true, but it depends then, as you know, on the organization, itself. I am addressing these two organizations, the “Atlanta Journal” and CNN, and again, I think in the early days, they were doing what any good news organization would do. Then the process simply gets out of control, out of hand. It becomes a media frenzy. Then it is not based on what the journalist has in hand; it is based simply on a need to keep up with the competition.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: First on that, Mr. Miller, do you think the press should have done something different at that point at the early point? We’ll get to the second phase of the press frenzy later.

MR. MILLER: In the early point I would think that we’re facing the problem that has come about as electronic media has in some ways supplanted the print journalism. In the early days of electronic media, back with Everett R. Murrow and Salon, the process required more thought, more deliberation, and more research before something was given out in print. And the sensational headline story was more rare and more seldom seen both in the print media and on television.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is because the technology, you didn’t have the instant technology.

MR. MILLER: It wasn’t just technology. There’s been a change now also in the philosophical concept of media over the last 10 years that is beyond the technology. It began when people began to see that you could make money off of news. News was considered originally a public service and was presented by the major original networks as a payment to the public for having access to the airwaves. When it became clear that there was more money to be made in it through news shows, then the philosophy changed, the approach changed, and now you have the pulp fiction, pulp press, the paparazzi that are now the major networks in a lot of ways.

And they’re not alone in this. There are areas in law enforcement where there are good relationships with people in the media, and they help each other back and forth, and the only people who benefit from that are those two aspects of our society. Individual defendants like Mr. Jewell don’t have that access; they don’t have the regularity of it, and they don’t have the ability to have their position presented, so it gets lopsided and twisted.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Brandon, leaving aside for a minute what the economics of the media industry, what role economics play in other aspects, what difference did the way the “Atlanta Constitution” play the story make to the FBI? If the “Atlanta Constitution” had not named Richard Jewell, would the FBI have pursued its case differently?

MR. BRANDON: Well, I think they might well have pursued it in a different manner. They may have been able to take their time a little bit more, and certainly they wouldn’t have done it under the glare of the lights every time that they went out to try to do their work. Uh, I’d like to come back to something, though, that’s been said, and I, I have a little bit of a problem–I may be naive–but I have a little bit of a problem with people saying that because there’s competition, the media doesn’t have responsibility. I’m overstating what’s said, but I think we all need to think about that a little bit. I think everybody has responsibilities. We all need to think about that a little bit.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But is your–in your view, if you had been the FBI person in charge down there, would you have hoped that nobody ran that person’s name, even if they were leaked the name?

MR. BRANDON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It was unconscionable that the name was leaked.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And in your view, you’re, you’re fairly sure that from the FBI’s point of view, it didn’t help them, which is Mr. Miller’s contention?

MR. BRANDON: No, no, it would not be helpful at all. It’s not helpful in any investigation. I differ with you. It certainly wouldn’t be one like this.


MR. MILLER: Well, I’ve seen cases where whether it’s helpful for not some people within an agency have released information that they shouldn’t have–grand jury leaks and politically sensitive cases and media cases. I’ve not yet seen a case where the Department of Justice, of which the FBI’s a part, has done a major investigation into its own to determine who was the source and to deal with it so that others get the message that they shouldn’t continue that practice.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Marvin Kalb, what about that point that sometimes the media, the FBI uses the media and vice versa, that there’s a kind of collusion there?

MR. KALB: Well, I don’t think there’s any question about that. That is the way government works today. Leaks are the lubricant with which it–by which information is conveyed to the public when it is that the government does not want to put its own name on the information. But I think that Mr. Miller before put a somewhat romantic, uh, description on American journalism. I agree with a lot of what he said, but he forgets that there was yellow journalism in America at the turn of the 20th century. We have gone through ups and downs with journalism.

At times it is extremely responsible, as Mr. Brandon said it should be, and it should, and at times, it’s way out of whack. And at this particular time–and I repeat because of extreme competitive pressures, because of a loss of identity in journalism, a loss of a distinctiveness of hard news, because of a blurring of the line between Oprah Winfrey at one end and say Jim Lehrer at the other end, um, people get confused about what hard news is, but the news organization is manipulated and used by the government at all times.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is there anything that can be done about that, so that something like this doesn’t happen again?

MR. KALB: I don’t really think so. I have a feeling that people will agonize about. I think everybody in journalism ought to be ashamed of themselves today, not at the very beginning but after that period of time when they went with a story without any additional fresh information. They were hyping news. They were trying to get little bits of information and blowing it into a sensation, and I think that everybody has to sympathize with Mr. Jewell and his mother. I certainly agree with that, but you can’t at the same time argue that the press was in cahoots with the FBI, that the press was doing this for some wilful, negative reason. The press is being the press, and television is today being television, and the lines are being blurred.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Miller, what happens next? Does Mr. Jewell have a case against the FBI and against the press, do you think?

MR. MILLER: I think that he has a difficult case against the federal government because it’s been careful to insulate itself from lawsuits, and it’s difficult to sue the federal government. Uh, the media may be a different story entirely, and he may be in a position where he can bring a suit against them.

Here’s a man who did nothing wrong, the whole case was based on a profile so far as we know today, with no hard evidence whatsoever, and he is in the glare now for the future out in–out onto his ancient years, until he gets white hair, so he needs some way to redress himself, but I don’t know if he can ever overcome this, even with litigation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Brandon, do you think the–that the Justice Department, with its release of this letter, has done what should be done, or is there something else that needs to be done?

MR. BRANDON: I think they’ve done what they should do. There’s really probably not much more than can be done. We can’t restore Richard Miller (Jewell) totally. There’s no way that you can do that. Small consolation–maybe–just maybe–not Richard Miller–Mr. Jewell–maybe his legacy will be, in fact, a little bit of reflection on the part of everybody as to how these things should be handled.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Well, thank you all very much.