Richard Jewell Reporting Was Fake News [PHIL-OSOPHY]
When I started out in this business over 50 years ago, I remember asking the news director what was up with the green eye-shade visor he was wearing. They were worn to lessen eyestrain due to bright incandescent lights, which tended to be very harsh. Those are now outdated, as is the requirement to get two separate sources to back up a major news story – but it shouldn't be, as you'll find out here.
In the past few years, we've been hearing accusations that the "Guardians of Truth and Providers of Fact" have been guilty of reporting "fake news." One reason for this is sometimes journalists only recount what they heard, but what they were told was wrong.
Such is the case of Richard Jewell, the security guard for AT&T who was working at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta on July 27, the day of the domestic terrorist attack. Jewell heroically identified a suspicious backpack in Centennial Olympic Park and helped clear the area before the bomb inside it exploded. All things considered, only one person was killed by the bomb. But in the heat of the 24-hour news cycle that followed, Jewell was fingered by the FBI – and then the media – as the prime suspect.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper ran with a special edition reporting that Jewell was the suspect under the headline, "FBI Suspects 'Hero' Guard May Have Planted Bomb." Rather than take time to investigate the FBI's suspicion, CNN accepted it and simply read from the newspaper on the air. The media got it wrong, even though they reported right from the paper.
NBC News paid a large settlement to Jewell in 1996, since Tom Brokaw wildly speculated on national television that Jewell was guilty. "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," Brokaw said.
Jewell and his mother watched Brokaw with heartbreak. Brokaw never has apologized. He said he was merely repeating the words of high-level government officials in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
The inference being the fake news was someone else's fault.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.