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05 February 2014

Planned Richard Jewell Biopic Presents AJC with Another Opportunity to Apologize

It's been nearly two decades since Richard Jewell's quick thinking at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park helped save countless lives, before a bomb planted by Eric Rudolph detonated.

Eighteen years ago, while working as a private security guard during the 1996 Summer Olympics, Jewell spotted a suspicious bag near his post at Centennial Olympic Park. Jewell alerted authorities, then began shepherding people out of harm's way. 111 people were injured and one person died due to the bomb's explosion. However, the number could have been much higher if it weren't for Jewell's watchful vigilance. Within hours, Jewell was hailed as a hero.

But the accolades were fleeting for Atlanta's Olympic hero.

Just days after being lauded in the news, Richard Jewell was the victim of trial by media. He had his character warped, maimed, and mutilated by an overzealous news media anxious to break the story first. Instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, Richard Jewell was presumed guilty by various news outlets, following an Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) report claiming Jewell was a suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.

Eventually Jewell was exonerated, but he spent the rest of his life in a protracted legal battle with the AJC, attempting to get an apology and compensation for the turmoil inflicted upon him by the Atlanta newspaper.

Jewell died in 2007. And the Atlanta Journal Constitution never said sorry to Jewell for their erroneous reporting.

On the heels of a newly-released ESPN documentary, "Judging Jewell", showing the media's rush to judgment in excruciating detail, a new biopic telling Richard Jewell's story was announced Tuesday.

Fox has closed a deal to acquire rights to Marie Brenner’s 1997 Vanity Fair article “The Ballad Of Richard Jewell”, which will be developed for Jonah Hill to play the title subject. Jewell was the security guard who discovered a backpack in the Olympics compound in Atlanta in 1996. Initially hailed a hero for reporting the suspicious knapsack and then helping clear bystanders from the area before it exploded, Jewell was subsequently vilified just three days later as a potential suspect, his life and reputation torn apart in the advent of the 24 hour news cycle. Leonardo DiCaprio will play a lawyer Jewell knew casually, a Southern attorney who mostly did real estate closings and seemed in over his head, but he guided Jewell through a hellish Twilight Zone that went on even after the FBI officially cleared Jewell’s name three months later.

Fleming, Mike (4 February 2014). ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’s Leonardo DiCaprio & Jonah Hill Plan Re-Team In Story Of Richard Jewell; Labelled Hero, Then Falsely Vilified As Bomber At 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Retrieved on 5 February 2014.

This film is a chance for the public to be reminded of how easily their reputation can be destroyed by the news media. If it could happen to an innocent man like Richard Jewell, then it could just as easily happen to anyone of us. This planned movie also presents the Atlanta Journal Constitution with yet another opportunity to apologize to Richard Jewell's family for the hell the AJC put Jewell through.

In the eighteen years since the Atlanta Journal Constitution first claimed Richard Jewell fit the profile of a lone bomber, throwing his life into chaos, the paper has not once offered any signs of remorse or contrition for its actions.

It is past time for that to change.