Clint Eastwood’s new film is titled “Richard Jewell” and tells the story of the security guard who was accused by the FBI and the media of responsibility for Centennial Olympic Park Bombing in 1996. The first trailer for the film was released today and it contains this description of the story:
The world is first introduced to Richard Jewell as the security guard who reports finding the device at the 1996 Atlanta bombing—his report making him a hero whose swift actions save countless lives. But within days, the law enforcement wannabe becomes the FBI’s number one suspect, vilified by press and public alike, his life ripped apart.
Reaching out to independent, anti-establishment attorney Watson Bryant, Jewell staunchly professes his innocence. But Bryant finds he is out of his depth as he fights the combined powers of the FBI, GBI and APD to clear his client’s name, while keeping Richard from trusting the very people trying to destroy him.
The film is based upon a 1997 story published in Vanity Fair. Here’s a sample of that piece focusing on the FBI and the media:
This case has everything—the F.B.I., the press, the violation of the Bill of Rights, from the First to the Sixth Amendment,” Watson Bryant told me in one of our first conversations. It has become common to characterize the F.B.I.’s investigation of Richard Jewell as the epitome of false accusation. The phrase “the Jewell syndrome,” a rush to judgment, has entered the language of newsrooms and First Amendment forums. On the night of Jewell’s press conference, a commentator on CNN’s Crossfire compared Jewell’s situation to “Kafka in Prague.” The case became an investigative catastrophe, which laid bare long-simmering resentments of many F.B.I. career professionals regarding the micromanagement style and imperious attitude of Louis Freeh and his inner circle of former New York prosecutors, who have worked together since their days at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District…
When Jewell returned home from F.B.I. headquarters just before eight p.m., NBC was showing special Olympic coverage. He sat on the sofa and watched Tom Brokaw say, “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 holes in this case.”
Jewell knew that Brokaw was his mother’s favorite newsman; he looked at her and noticed “the color and the blood flow out of her face when she heard that.” Bobi turned to him and asked, “What is he talking about?” Jewell later recalled, “Brokaw was talking about her son as a murderer.… She started crying, and what am I going to say to her? ‘Mom, Watson is going to fix this’? What do you say? She doesn’t hear anything anyway—she was in hysterics.” At that point, Jewell said, he broke down as well.
Jewell was eventually cleared of any involvement and Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to the bombing which killed one person. Jewell wound up suing a number of news outlets for libel. NBC settled and paid Jewell $500,000. CNN and the New York Post also settled for undisclosed sums. Only the Atlanta Journal-Constitution refused to settle.
Clint Eastwood is known as one of the few Republicans in Hollywood and has expressed support for President Trump. So the film’s focus on an FBI making serious errors and a media rushing to judgment en masse seems somewhat timely to say the least. The phrase “fake news” wasn’t around in 1996 but if it had been, the media’s treatment of Richard Jewell would have been Exhibit A. Here’s the trailer. I have to say this looks pretty good to me.