Yesterday we lost Richard Jewell, the former security guard wrongly identified as being the Olympic Park bombing suspect in 1996. Jewell was unfairly maligned, dissed and mocked and I have to admit I played a role in all that.
At the time I was a monologue writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After various news outlets connected Jewell to the bombing we had a field day with it, doing dozens of jokes all assuming Jewell was guilty. Which is the way that show worked. You’re accused, you musta done it.
After a week or so I began to see cracks in the theory that Jewell was the bomber. The FBI released a voice recording of who they believed planted the bomb - it certainly didn’t sound like Jewell. I began to get a strong feeling Jewell was innocent and relayed my thoughts to the host of the program where I worked. To no avail, the jokes continued, many making fun of “Dick” Jewell’s (as Jay called him) appearance, comparing this man to the Pillsboury Doughboy.
It turns out that not only was he innocent of any wrongdoing, Jewell was the first to notice the backpack containing the bomb in the park and moved people away from the area. RICHARD Jewell probably saved dozens of lives.
This is but one vicious example of the media slandering and libeling an innocent person. In the somewhat less clear cut case of John and Patsy Ramsey I couldn’t help but feel as we did joke after joke assuming their guilt that we may very well be attacking people who not only were innocent, but had recently suffered the most heinous punishment life can dole out - the violent, unexpected loss of a child.
Jewell went on to eventually reclaim his name, and reached legal settlements with NBC and CNN. Here’s hoping he rests in peace. In this age where the word is tossed around much too freely, Jewell truly was a genuine American hero, and a victim of a horrific media lynching.
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