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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Media Questions Bombing Coverage

NEW YORK -- Now that the satellite trucks are gone from Richard Jewell's street and the microphones are packed off to some newer emergency than this summer's Olympic bombing, a crucial question remains for the media: how do you un-make a villain?


Jewell, a 33-year-old security guard, spent almost three months as an international pariah after the Atlanta Journal came out with an extra edition July 30 naming him as the "focus'' of the FBI's bombing investigation. Now that the Justice Department has sent him a letter saying that he is not a prime suspect, Jewell and his lawyers say they plan to sue the FBI and some media representatives -- including the Atlanta papers and Tom Brokaw of NBC.


And although representatives of both news organizations have denied that they have done anything that warrants a court action, media critics have already begun to debate the ethics of the 88-day media siege of Jewell's apartment.


"The Jewell story is a cautionary tale for those of us who care about the power of the media,'' said Nancy Hicks Maynard, chair of the Media Studies Center in New York. "The press's highest calling is to protect individuals from official misconduct by raising questions and writing stories,'' she said. "In this case, we became agents of that abuse of power.''


Marvin Kalb, the director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, said: "I think that what the Atlanta Journal and CNN did was perfectly normal journalism. The Atlanta Journal had a source. It was a huge story ... against the backdrop of international terrorism ... I'd have done the same thing.''


Some have suggested that the media consider going back to times when many news organizations refused to print the names of any suspect until charges were filed by law enforcement agencies.


Such debate will not only be part of journalism seminars, it could also be part of an extended court battle, if the security guard's lawyers pursue their legal plans.


Jewell attorney Lin Wood said he would sue the Atlanta papers, not for naming Jewell as a suspect -- which was true -- but for "slanted stories.'' The first story that got widespread notice said, in part, that "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.''


Brokaw has been by Jewell's legal team for a broadcast that said, "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.''





The Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a statement Monday saying that their coverage "has been both accurate and appropriate.''