Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Convicted by the press, even in death

The top story on right now is the death of Richard Jewell, which is accompanied by the headline "One-time Olympic park bombing suspect Richard Jewell dies." Jewell was only 44 and reportedly died from diabetes complications and kidney failure.

It kind of irks me that this is the best headline they could write to summarize the life and times of Richard Jewell. At the very least, I think the press owes it to him to include the words "wrongly" or "cleared" in any headline that hints at his being a suspected bomber. CNN tells the story this way:
"He was originally hailed as a hero for moving people away, but he was later thrust into a different light when the FBI suspected that he had set off the bomb to give himself an opportunity to be a hero.

For weeks, reporters and camera crews camped outside Jewell's Atlanta apartment, capturing every move that he -- and the FBI -- made.

He later sued the FBI and several media organizations. CNN and NBC were among the organizations that settled with him."
The resolution of this case--Jewell was innocent and some lunatic named Eric Robert Rudolph was the true culprit--was not nearly as widely covered as the 12 weeks of public scrutiny of Richard Jewell. As such, the incident is now one of those cases they teach you about in journalism ethics class as an example of what not to do. Jewell was considered a suspect by the FBI, but he was convicted without a trial by the media. This is also an early example (thanks to CNN) of how the 24-hour news cycle can lead to badly reported news and premature conclusions. Given the power and influence of the press, there should always be a methodical search for the truth, followed by responsible reporting of the facts. Conjecture and speculation have no place on the evening news. There is nothing lower than throwing caution to the wind for ratings and readers, while doing irreparable damage to a person's public reputation.

Now that the man has died, you would think the media would be willing to eat a little more crow over this. But they won't.


Kelly Mahoney said...

This guy can't even rest in peace. And how did he die at age 44? That seems a little premature. I blame it on the stress of the world following him around and calling him a terrorist.

Bret said...

They got your memo:
Vindicated Olympic Park bombing suspect Richard Jewell dies

Matt said...

I'm glad my blog is already so influential.

Bret said...

It's definitely almost worth reading.