"Judging Jewell"

[Content Note: Terrorism.]

Following the Boston Marathon Bombing, there was a lot of misinformation and speculation and misidentification of "suspects." In a piece committing to practice patience and not rush to judgment, I wrote:
The bombing of Centennial Park at the Atlanta Summer Olympics took place on July 27, 1996. The person who eventually confessed to the crime, Eric Rudolph, was not even identified as a suspect until almost two years later on February 14, 1998.

In the intervening two years, Richard Jewell, the man who found the pipe bomb left by Rudolph—which exploded before it could be safely detonated, killing one person and wounding 111 others—had his life torn to shreds by accusations that he was the bomber. Those accusations were wrong.

I am practicing patience.

To this day, when I think of the name Eric Rudolph, it is this picture of Richard Jewell that accompanies the name. I swear to fuck that picture was everywhere for something like six solid months after the bombing. Just now, I had to go look up what Eric Rudolph looks like; I couldn't call him to mind at all.

I am practicing patience.

I remember Eric Rudolph's name, but I remember Richard Jewell's face. That is the legacy of irresponsible leaking and reporting, in the aftermath of a public act of violence. That is also the legacy of public impatience, during a time when care must be taken.
Following publication of this piece, I had a conversation with some people, in the same age cohort as myself, young adults at the time of the Atlanta Olympics bombing, who had never even realized in the intervening decades that Jewell was not, in fact, the bomber. That someone else had confessed to the crime.

The media was slightly less zealous in reporting that he was ruled out as the suspect than they had been in reporting that he was a suspect.

In the same week it was announced that one of the actual Boston bombers will face the death penalty if convicted, ESPN has released a mini-documentary about Richard Jewell, a man who actually saved lives on that fateful day, and then had his life utterly ruined.

The hat tip goes to Linda Holmes, who says: "Sobering, to say the least."

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