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Clint Eastwood’s 'Richard Jewell' prompts apology from former CNN reporter: 'We in the media got it wrong'

The media rushed to condemn an innocent man based on misinformation from the FBI


Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Getty Images

Former investigative journalist for CNN, Henry Schuster, penned an open letter of apology to Richard Jewell, the security guard who was falsely accused of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, and the inspiration for Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood's latest film by the same name.

As Schuster explained to The Washington Post, Jewell was initially hailed as a hero after he discovered the bomb and alerted law enforcement, which ultimately saved countless lives. But when the media, Schuster included, got wind that the FBI was investigating Jewell, they rushed to be the first to break the news that the bombing suspect had been found.

"The media had begun turning Jewell from a hero to a villain. Our wall-to-wall coverage was underway: We became the FBI's megaphone. There was no nuance in those first 48 hours," Schuster wrote.

"This was 1996, the dawn of the Internet age, so the process took some time. The Atlanta paper reported it, we ran it over and over as breaking news, and those thousands of reporters covering the Olympics had their lead," he added. "By the next day, Jewell was notorious worldwide. (Now, with social media, a reputation can be destroyed in nanoseconds.)"

Jewell was never charged for the bombing. The Justice Department declared he was no longer a suspect by October 1996, but the damage to Jewell's reputation was done.

Schuster received an Emmy Award for his coverage of "those first 24 hours" after the bombing.

"We in the media got it wrong, even though our reporting was right. There's the paradox: Jewell really was the FBI's main suspect. Yes, the FBI has a lot to answer for, but this is about our responsibility. Suppose that CNN had been more nuanced and called Jewell a person of interest; our repetitive and relentless coverage would still have made it look like the authorities thought he was the culprit," wrote Schuster.

"But the lesson is, that isn't always enough. It's also how you report it and how everyone else is reporting it, too. Someone else's guilty plea and several court settlements didn't give Jewell his good name back," he added. "Maybe the film finally will."

On the radio program Tuesday, Glenn Beck shared Schuster's open letter of apology to Jewell, who died in 2006. He noted the similarities with what the media is currently doing to President Donald Trump based on erroneous or incomplete information from the FBI.

"I wonder if anyone at CNN is reading this, including the author, and seeing the similarities of what they've done with FBI sources telling them incorrect information, and going after their guy, because they know he's guilty," Glenn said.

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