* I am old enough to remember when the pipe-bomb exploded during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I was living in North Carolina, and Atlanta was the closest big city. 1 Atlanta was almost like the capital of the entire South.
2 It was almost as if it was next door. I remember hearing about the bomb going off from cable news. I remember them saying that a man working security had discovered it, and his quick work saved many lives. Then I remember a few days later the news declared he was considered a suspect. His name did not stick with me until after he went from hero to potential terrorist.
His name was Richard Jewell. Bert Roughton, now the senior managing editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was working at the paper when the bombing happened. Roughton recently described Jewell as “very Southern, somewhat unsophisticated and extremely earnest.” Roughton points out that “[t]hese aren’t traits that Hollywood has a track record of venerating.” As a Southerner myself, I appreciate that point.
* Clint Eastwood’s movie about the bombing and its aftermath does not venerate Jewell, but it does not mock him, either. What the movie does is criticize the FBI and the media for their roles in what happened to Jewell.
* When I first saw the trailer, I was yelling at the screen “DON’T TALK TO THE POLICE! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” Fortunately, my yelling was internal.
What does the movie Richard Jewell teach us as a practical matter? Do not talk to the police. Certainly do not actively cooperate with them, regardless of your earnestness. “But, Dave!” I hear, “I didn’t do anything wrong! Why shouldn’t I talk to law enforcement to help prove my innocence?”
Well, there are several reasons. First, there is nothing more American or patriotic than exercising your right to remain silent as protected by the United States Constitution. Second, the only person who needs to stay silent more than a guilty man is an innocent one. Third, you are innocent until proven guilty. You do not need to prove your innocence. You shut up, you are innocent. You talk, law enforcement can use it against you. Talking can not make you MORE innocent than you already are by remaining silent. At the very best, talking is a break-even proposition. It can not help you. It can only hurt you.
For the gamblers out there, here is an example: Would you put up $100 on a proposition where the best case scenario is that you get your money back — you break even — but otherwise you lose it all? Of course not. There is zero upside to that proposition. The same thing applies when talking to law enforcement.
* In case you missed the primary lesson from Richard Jewell, here it is again: Do not talk to police. That includes local police, the county sheriff, the state patrol, the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, interpol, MI-6 or Judy Hopps from the Zootopia Police Department. Especially do not talk with Judy Hopps. She is way too gung-ho. I could see her playing Jon Hamm’s Character in the Richard Jewell movie. I could see her lying to a suspect in order to trap the guy into saying something incriminating. I love this idea! Judy Hopps as Jessica Rabbit. It would be called “Who Framed Richard Jewell.” 3
* Remember, the AJC did not report anything that was incorrect. Jewell was, indeed, being investigated by the FBI as the possible bomber. The ethical question, then, is if being investigated – but not charged or arrested – should be made public knowledge. Does reporting a fact justify the damage done by reporting it? Or should all facts be reported regardless of their effect on others? Richard Jewell, the movie, shows what actually happened to someone when the question is answered in favor of disclosure.
Anyone can be accused of anything by anyone at any time. It is even easier for someone to merely be suspected of something. Is that really news? Perhaps if the person being accused is a politician it is news. Perhaps it is not if the person is not a public figure, just doing his job and punching a clock.
* The FBI lied to Jewell on several occasions. Lying is an accepted practice by law enforcement investigators. They are taught to lie effectively in an effort to trick suspects into making incriminating statements. The famous U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona does a good job chronicling the deception used by law enforcement. 4
Of course, individuals are not allowed to lie to law enforcement. In 2017, General Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI. He is facing time in prison. Martha Stewart did time for lying to federal investigators, as well. If the rich and powerful can be incarcerated for “lying” to law enforcement, so can you. But if you do not talk to law enforcement, nothing you say can be twisted into a “lie” or “obstruction of justice.”
* The AJC has threatened legal action for defamation against the producers, including Eastwood, of the movie. They claim a scene insinuates reporter Kathy Scruggs traded sex for information from an FBI agent. Apparently there is no evidence anywhere of such a trade. The AJC says that scene defames Scruggs and the newspaper. They have demanded a disclaimer to that effect on all showings of the movie.
Eastwood has, in effect, told them to go to the beach and beat it up. 5
Scruggs passed away in 2001. Since she is deceased, neither she nor her estate have a defamation claim. As a legal matter, the deceased can not be defamed. There are several centuries old common law reasons for this, including that no statement can negatively affect a dead person’s standing in the community. No one is going to refuse to do business with a dead person. No one is going to ostracize a dead person. Therefore, according the law, the dead can not be defamed.
Corporations, however, can be defamed, although it is nigh on impossible to win a defamation lawsuit in the United States. The AJC acknowledges this in its letter threatening legal action: “Since the film will be release internationally, my clients do not need to satisfy constitutional malice criteria for a successful defamation lawsuit in various jurisdictions, including, but not limited to, the U.K., France, and Australia.”
I do not think the AJC has much of a case in any jurisdiction. The movie is a dramatization, not a documentary.
* There is a scene early in the movie where Watson Bryant, played by Sam Rockwell, tells Richard Jewell not to become, well, a jerk, after he becomes a cop. Then the movie cuts to Jewell as a cop being a jerk. 6
* Some “progressive” sites have condemned the movie because it criticizes the FBI and the media. Currently, many progressives feel the need to defend both institutions, simply because Donald Trump opposes them. I try to demonstrate on a daily basis that they are all worthy of scorn. No one need choose.
- Well, from Greensboro, Washington, D.C., was closer, but no one wants to claim D.C. as their own. Atlanta was and is a cooler city.
- Sorry, Charlotte.
- There is no question mark in the title of the Roger Rabbit movie. Hence, there would be no question mark in my glorious remake.
- I did a podcast on Miranda. You can check it out.
- You know, pound sand.
- Except Bryant did not use the word “jerk.” I shall let your imagination guess the actual word used.