JULY 1996 - Media Misrepresentation & Richard Jewell

Any person accused of a crime in the United States is afforded the right of due process within the judicial system. Whether or not the system always works in the way it should is debatable, but there is an underlying standard that should ideally always be reached. Yet outside of the courtroom, defendants and suspects of a high-profile crime have to undergo an entirely different and skewed investigation; trial by media which can have a huge, and usually negative impact for those who endure it.

Security Guard Richard Jewell was in the right place at the right time to save hundreds of lives and thousands more from injuries during the 1996 Summer Olympics, in Atlanta, Georgia. While patrolling the densely packed Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, Jewell found a backpack containing a pipe-bomb left behind by terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph. Jewell and other authorities managed to evacuate thousands of attendees before the bomb exploded less than 15 minutes later, tragically killing Alice Hawthorne and injuring over a hundred others. 

Media coverage was kind to Jewell at first, and for a handful of days following the bombing his heroic efforts were given widespread coverage. Yet the dramatic shift in tide began on July 30th, 1996 with an article published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by reporter Kathy Scruggs, “FBI suspects hero “guard” may have planted bomb.” Backed with official law enforcement sources, the article detailed why Jewel matched the lone-bomber profile and may be under some level of investigation. This not only derailed FBI investigations, as Jewell knowing he was a potential suspect harmed their non-confrontational approach, but quickly grew into a media frenzy. Within hours of being published, Scruggs story was picked up by the Associated Press, CNN, and NBC. During NBC’s nightly broadcast, anchor Tom Brokaw said “The speculation is that the FBI is close to “making the case’ which is heavily skewed from the