Significance: These cases involved a private citizen whose
name was released by the press as the FBI’s main suspect in a bombing, although he had not been formally charged. There are laws prohibiting the release of suspects’ names before they are charged. Also, with the exception of Jewell v. New York Post, these cases provide examples of defamation and libel per se.
Richard Jewell worked at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympic Goodwill Games in Atlanta, Georgia when a bomb exploded, killing one and injuring several others. His name was leaked to the press by unnamed sources as the FBI’s prime suspect. Media accounts of this information became the target of libel suits brought by Jewell after he was exonerated.
Richard Jewell v. NBC
This suit arose from comments made by Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News. Brokaw said, “The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case.” NBC stood by their story, but later agreed to a reported settlement of $500,000 in December 1997. They issued a statement saying they agreed on the settlement to protect confidential sources.
Other Richard Jewell Libel Cases
Richard Jewell v. Cox Enterprises (d.b.a. Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
This suit was filed in response to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution naming Jewell as the FBI’s prime suspect on July 30, 1997. The lawsuit charged the newspaper with libel, which portrayed Jewell as “an individual with a bizarre employment history and aberrant personality.” His attorneys claimed that reports saying Jewell “fit the profile of a lone bomber” were defamatory, and partially based on false information. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues to support its story. The suit is pending.
Richard Jewell v. Piedmont College
Piedmont College was also named in a lawsuit for allegedly approaching media and FBI investigators with “false and defamatory statements against Jewell, his personality, and his work history at Piedmont.” Jewell reportedly reached an undisclosed settlement with Piedmont in 1997. Piedmont President W. Ray Cleere had previously provided a sworn statement saying he had been misquoted. If this were the case, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution would be at fault.
Richard Jewell v. New York Post
This is a claim of libel per quod. This $15 million libel suit against the New York Post cited a cartoon drawn by Sean Delonas as an example of the newspaper’s “fictionalized” version of Jewell’s involvement in the Atlanta Bombing. Jewell’s attorney, Lin Wood, claimed the cartoon “conveyed to the reader that an Olympic security guard was responsible for the bombing.” The suit also cited a series of articles, headlines and photos which appeared in the publication. Wood said the cartoon should be viewed in context with the rest of the paper’s coverage of his client.
Richard Jewell v. CNN
CNN agreed on an undisclosed settlement of a complaint brought by Jewell and his mother; CNN maintains its coverage was fair and accurate.