Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Joke and Two Jewels

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Joke and Two Jewels

Article excerpt

Richard Jewell's suit lingers like a bad re-run, but it's been a good season for open courts and records

Like Hollywood's tired resurrection of the oft-killed 1980s horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason, Richard Jewell's libel lawsuit against The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is trying to lurch back to life this summer.

Jewell is the former security guard who saved many lives during the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta by trying to clear Centennial Olympic Park when a disguised bomb he discovered exploded, killing one person and injuring 110. The FBI, watching Jewell's obvious pleasure in the media limelight, quickly concluded that he must have set the bomb himself. The suspicion leaked to the Journal-Constitution, which published an accurate story and ignited a predictable frenzy of pack journalism.

Jewell endured a taste of media hell for some weeks as camera trucks planted themselves outside the apartment he shared with his mom. But media attention also eviscerated the FBI case, and Jewell was exonerated with considerable hoopla. He and attorney L. Lin Wood Jr. then turned to shaking down the news media with libel suits. It worked wonderfully at first: NBC reportedly settled for $500,000, and CNN shelled out an undisclosed amount.

But the Journal-Constitution refused to lie down, and the truth of its reporting has proved an unshakable defense in court. In 2001, a Georgia appeals court delivered a mortal blow to the case -- noting, among other things, that Jewell himself had acknowledged the truth of many statements his suit claims are "defamatory. …

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