Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The Quiet Man
Richard Jewell is dead, at the age of 44.
In a somewhat ironic, somewhat and sadly expected denouement, the announcement came from his lawyer.
For those of you who don't immediately recognize the name -- which is almost surely the way the man himself would've wanted it in the first place -- Jewell was, for 88 days in 1996, the prime suspect in the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, which killed one person and wounded more than a hundred others.
Jewell was a security guard at the park and found the suspicious bag containing the bomb. He warned others about it and attempted to move them out of harm's way; there's little doubt that the death toll would've been much higher had Jewell not intervened, and indeed, at first he was hailed as a hero. But then something happened -- something entirely unsurprising when you consider the grotesque nature of modern media saturation and just what's required to keep it running in a manner that's satisfying to both the unscrupulous monsters at its helm and the hungry public it supposedly serves: Richard Jewell was turned into a villain -- the perfect villain actually.
Thanks to an over-zealous and incompetent federal prosecutor and a news cycle which demanded fresh blood, no matter the cost to innocents or the truth, Jewell was judged and convicted in the public eye before all the facts were in; his life was turned upside-down and inside-out, all on live television. Richard Jewell became the sacrificial lamb on the altar of the public's insatiable, voyeuristic right to know -- and lazy journalism's bullshit supposed obligation to that demand.
At all times during the sickening media circus, Jewell maintained his innocence.
Finally, after almost 12 weeks of non-stop harassment and conjecture -- Richard Jewell was cleared of any and all wrongdoing. It would be years before America realized that the bomb had in fact been planted by right-wing psychopath and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph.
But by the time the prosecutor officially apologized to Jewell -- and the media did its usual post-hoc hand-wringing and soul-searching -- the damage had already been done. Jewell's life had been ruined.
From a strictly mathematical perspective, it might have been worth the destruction of one innocent man to teach the media the crucial lesson that blood in the water provides no sanction for an unconscionable feeding frenzy -- to save the lives of the next generation of Richard Jewells.
Unfortunately, all it takes is a flip through the TV stations or a glance at a newspaper to realize that the media has learned absolutely nothing.
Imagine for a moment what kind of baseless accusations would've vomited out of the mouth of, say, Nancy Grace, had she had her own cable news show during the Jewell saga: Likely the same baseless and despicable accusations she now levels at every other untried and technically innocent person she arrogantly deems to be guilty, despite it never having been proven in a court of law.
Richard Jewell is gone, but his legacy lives on.
It's too bad the media chooses to ignore it -- particularly since, for all intents and purposes, they ended Jewell's life a decade ago.