Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Richard Jewell: A Lesson For Journalism.

MOMENTS BEFORE a bomb exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics, Richard Jewell found a suspicious looking device and began clearing people away from the scene. He was initially considered a hero during an event in which one person was killed and more than 100 were injured.

But within days, the media labeled Jewell a suspect. His face was on television around the world and in newspapers everywhere stating that he was a suspected terrorist.

"In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother," Jewell said after the FBI cleared him of any wrongdoing, a full 88 days after the bombing.

Jewell died at his Georgia home on Wednesday
. While no cause of death was reported, Jewell had been suffering from medical issues in recent months. He was 44.

Read the links and do your own research. How can journalists be certain that we don't ruin people's lives as was the case with Richard Jewell?


Matt Breen said...

From what I've read on this subject, the media outlets went with questionable sources. One of the major rules of journalsim is to have good sources; as long as a journalist has that, peoples lives won't get ruined.

Aimee Otis said...

I think the only way journalists can make sure they don't ruin people's lives is to make sure their sources are reliable; like Matt Breen said.
I think sometimes journalists are so worried about getting the story out first, and what types of stories will sell, that they forget they are talking about real people with everyday lives. They need to ensure the information they are getting is correct before writing about it, to ensure they aren't spreading rumors that can be harmful to the people involved.

Geo said...

But the media went with information that was attributed to the police. Doesn't that absolve them from responsibility? Shouldn't the FBI really be at blame, rather than the press?

George (the teacher and devil's advocate)

Kristen Stabile said...

In a sense, it sort of is the journalist's job to report anything and everything they hear, so naturally, even if it was only ONE person's silly belief about Richard being a suspect, it is going to get out. Word travels fast, and even faster with a journalist's word. There is no doubt that any journalist's intention is not to ruin anyone's life, it's just to report what is going on and what is being thought. The media takes a turn and sometimes puts a spin on things, and in term, it can ruin lives. Never a full intention. At least, it'd be nice to believe the morality in our lives is still in tact.

kristen stabile said...

correction: in TURN, not in term in the 3rd to last sentence :)

Dhara said...

Sometimes even journalists can be wrong because after all they are human beings but that does not give them the right to absolve from their responsibilities.Somewhere it is also the fault of journalists but that too doesnt make them all bad because all they need to do is accept that they are wrong.

Chris said...

Geo said...
But the media went with information that was attributed to the police. Doesn't that absolve them from responsibility? Shouldn't the FBI really be at blame, rather than the press?

George (the teacher and devil's advocate)

August 30, 2007 11:36 AM

Without sounding like a complete paranoid militiaman, you think our government is an unquestionable reliable source?
If the answer is yes, I have some cheap Rolexes I would like to see if you are interested in after class...

I also think this was probably on the cusp of the begining stages of the 24 hour news cycle (internet/ 24 hour a day news programming), which I think has had a negative impact on reporting. In an effort to be the first to break a story, fact-checking has become less of a priority (2000 Presidential election coverage anyone?).

Geo said...

If not the government, who can you trust? Should we play detective and solve crimes ourselves? Or do we simply report (and verify) the information given to us? Does every story need a "Deep Throat" type figure leaking information?

As for the 24 hour news cycle, CNN started in 1980. It became very popular during the 1980's and by the Gulf War I, it was an international staple.

So that is no excuse for shoddy reporting.

That said, the competitive zeal was almost definitely a factor in this situation.

Could you ignore a suspect if everyone else was labeling as a suspect? Aren't you afraid that the audience would seek the story from another outlet if you don't have it?

- George (the fake Rolex-wearing teacher and devil's advocate)

Morgan said...

I'm not going to lie, if I were a journalist at the time of a media frenzy like the one surrounding the 1996 Olymics bombing, I could not ignore a suspect everyone else was labeling. Like you said in class, the media is a business and it's a journalist's job to report the news people want to read/hear.

Also, if every newspaper, magazine, radio station, tv news station, etc. is already pointing the finger at the suspect, and all eyes are already on him, not running the story for reasons of conscience is only going to put the journalist out for the time being. Unfortunately, the life of any suspect, whether he is innocent or not, in a case such as this will never be the same. One more article or news report is not going to change that.


Geo said...

But Morgan, maybe you can be the one shining example of all that is right! Don't let peer pressure run with news you don't believe!

Ultimately, what happened here is the media perpetuated one report without doing their own independent reporting. That is horrible. Never rely upon other people's work.


Find the story yourself.

Paul said...

This may be a very cynical view but with Richard Jewell it was almost that no one wanted to be wrong. If all the media is saying Mr. Jewell did it whats in it for one outlet to go against it? If you go against it and happen to be wrong then that makes you look unreliable. But if you go with it then everyone goes down together. Its almost if the media wasn't as free as the constitution guarantees. The sad part of this mentality is what it did to this Mr. Jewell's life.

-Paul M

Donnie said...

The thing to consider though is first, variety of news sources and second opposing views. Your point that they wanted to stick together makes sense, but there is such variety of mediums and outlets that both the idea that Jewell was a legitimate suspect and that he was a blameless hero should have recieved almost equal air-time. There is always another side to a story. If journalists are doing their job, both should be spoken of almost equally overall.

Unadulterated facts are seldom presented as such these days. Getting your news from many sources and journalists representing all sides allows for the educated consumer to become aware of the facts for themselves and form their own opinions from there.

Chris said...

I think journalists first obligation is to report and verify. I understand there is investigative journalism, but I think when the line gets blurry, you need to pull back as opposed to move forward and blurr it. Why is it worthy of being run because the FBI wanted info because they weren't clear? What if the FBI wasn't the initiator of the request? What if it was a reporter from Seattle on the boat, saw those guys he thought was suspicious, and ran the same piece? No reason or facts to suspect these two, but I want to find out who they are and I'm asking for the public's help. It would be irresponsible journalism, right?
And trust what the government tells people? I consider the government less reliable for facts and information then the crackheads on my block.

And while CNN started in '80, I always thought that the OJ chase was considered the beginning of the 24 hour news cycle.

I think Donnie's post was on point. In my opinion as much as I don't trust mainstream media at all, I realize that most of the Indy press has their own agenda as well. Fair and balanced does sound nice, is it really only a pipe dream?

And to those who subscribe to the lemming mentality: Barbara Lee (D- California).

Geo said...

For all of you government conspiracy theorists out there, here is some fuel for your fire:

A Houston television station is reporting that the FBI actually intensified their surveillance of Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, after he was assassinated in 1968.

Click here for the story.

Frances said...

I think that the media may have jumped to conclusions about who was responsible for the bomb. At the time there was no one else to blame, and Jewell became an easy target.

Colleen Reese said...

This trend is nothing particularly new. Databases are opening on the web as a source of anonymous information for people like FBI agents and Government officials. As this trend grows, there becomes less need for corrective journalism. I haven't really seen a correction box in most of the circulating, major newspapers in a long while.
Information usage is becoming much more careless and cavaliered because the sources no long have consequences.
Whether or not that the journalists' fault is not necessarily black and white. Although precautions could have certainly been taken to avoid ruining an innocent man's life, imagine the public outcry if the papers had not published this story if he was, in fact, a terrorist.

If you're interested in leaks, visit and search "Leak Soup." It's a really interesting article.

Colleen said...


Geo said...

Hey Colleen,

Corrections are staples in newspapers (and on TV), for better or worse. One of the things that I always find shocking is the half page of corrections on A2 of the Sunday New York Times. On an average week, there are about two dozen corrections.

And if you think there are no consequences for sources, try getting a hold of Scooter Libby these days. He's in jail for allegedly revealing the identity of a CIA agent to members of the press.

We need to remember that, as journalists, we have people's lives in our hands. We have huge power to influence. We need to wield that power wisely. And that isn't always easy.

But it is better to think about these things now rather than when you are a working professional writing on deadline.

- George (the teacher)

rayyan said...

You said we have a huge power to influnence, does that mean we are also prone to being influenced, either by what the government is saying, or even what other journalists are have reported? Does there only have to be one solution? Lets say Jewell had no alternative motives, and he really was trying to shoo innocent civilians away from the "suspicious looking device" shouldn't we always ask our selves, why did this device in particular catch his eye? Or after the FBI reported that he was a terrorist shouldnt we ask ourselves then why would he be so determined so save innocent lives?
Maybe the sole answer is intricacy in our research, but are we always to be skeptical?

Geo said...

The number one requirement for being a journalist, I believe, is that you have to be curious.

Being skeptical? I'd put that at a a the second most important requirement.


We are supposed to present the truth. We can't be certain of the truth based upon one source. We need to verify everything to ensure its veracity.

I (as a journalist) always try to be nice about it: when people make a claim, I usually say, "Really?" Then I ask more people, talk to officials, dig through research, talk to experts, and come back to that person and again ask, "Really?"

The media had many theories as to why Jewell (when they still considered him a suspect) helped save people. The main theory stated that he always wanted to be a law enforcement figure, so he created a situation where he could become a hero.

For 88 days, the media bantered around theories.

Anonymous said...

Enea said...

The media does not have any evidence that Richard Jewell is a suspect. If he was a suspect, he wouldn’t had told anyone that there was a bomb. I think that the media is sending the wrong message to our society. They are telling us that we can be accused just by trying to help save lives. I think that Richard Jewell: A Lesson For Journalism is sending the wrong message to our society. It is telling us that we can end up getting in trouble for trying to help. I strongly think that the media should have given him a reward for saving lives and he is truly a hero. This shows that the media is not always right.