Richard Jewell is director Clint Eastwood’s well-acted, solidly scripted biopic about the racial-profiling fiasco that undermined the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing investigation. The FBI monomaniacally targeted an innocent rent-a-cop for being a Frustrated White Man, and then leaked his name to the press despite never having any actual evidence against him.
Much of the media has denounced Clint’s movie for casting aspersions upon America’s noble Deep State. Just because our beloved Intelligence Community has a lamentable track record of going off on wild-goose chases against innocent citizens and then inviting the press to pile on to turn their daily existences into living hells is no reason to, you know, make a movie about it. Some bits of history are best swept under the rug.
The New Yorker, for example, is hallucinatory with rage about the film:
“Yet, paradoxically, there is another woman—an ultra-competent and accomplished woman—who’s never mentioned and never seen and yet is obliquely, perhaps unintentionally, implied throughout the movie: Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Uh…no, actually the movie is not at all about Hillary.
Jewell was working security during a concert at Atlanta’s downtown Centennial Park when he noticed a suspicious backpack under a bench. He began to clear the crowd, so when the three pipe bombs inside exploded thirteen minutes later, only one person was killed.
Jewell was initially acclaimed a hero. But when the FBI couldn’t come up with a clue who the terrorist was, they began to obsess over the notion that Jewell fit the profile of the lone white male who wants so much to be the good guy that he becomes the bad guy.
The FBI leaked this wild surmise to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which explained to its readers:
This profile generally includes a frustrated white man who is a former police officer, member of the military or police “wanna-be” who seeks to become a hero.
This was not a wholly ridiculous conjecture. For example, firemen who love fighting fires so much that they turn arsonist are hardly unknown. Joseph Wambaugh’s true-crime book Fire Lover tells of an arson investigator in my neighborhood who used to set stores where my mother shopped on fire so he could call in the first report.
But this is a memorable phenomenon, precisely because it’s also a fairly rare one.
The 1990s were the peak of the prestige of the FBI’s fad of “criminal-profiling” the perpetrators of exotic incidents, which was seen as more moral and scientific than the despised practice of racially profiling crack dealers.
Racial profiling relies upon common stereotypes about common criminals—for instance, that the black youth standing on the corner who dresses and acts like a drug dealer might indeed be a drug dealer. It tends to work because stereotypes are almost always statistically true on average. But the entire subject of black crime is so depressing and repetitious that everybody officially pretends that racial profiling can’t possibly work.
In contrast, the much more respectable form of profiling tries to predict the personalities of felons of glamour crimes like serial murders and Olympic bombings. Many movies have been made about genius FBI profilers who solve mysteries by getting inside the twisted minds of psycho killers. Unfortunately, as Malcolm Gladwell scoffed in 2007 with only modest exaggeration, “It is not a triumph of forensic analysis. It’s a party trick.”
The fundamental problem is that the unusual crimes that obsess the press are, by definition, unusual, and thus their profilers must draw upon much smaller sample sizes than routine crimes like crack dealing.
For instance, in an even more important case, the post-9/11 anthrax murders that helped drive the Intelligence Community so nuts that it argued for invading Iraq, the FBI spent six years tormenting bioweapons expert Steven Hatfill before paying him about $5 million for their abuse.
In all the media reports I read about journalist Kathy Scruggs, I don’t recall any of them pointing out she died by a drug overdose.
But ever since the film premiered at the AFI Fest in November, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editor-in-chief, Kevin Riley, has insisted that the film—written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)—gets integral facts wrong. Specifically, Riley has pointed to a scene in Richard Jewell that implies Scruggs, who died in 2001, traded sex for stories—a scene that has incited an internet firestorm and prompted the AJC to demand a disclaimer on the movie. Rolling Stone’s film critic Peter Travers wrote in his review, “The attempt to slut-shame a reporter who’s not around to defend herself stands as a black mark in a film that otherwise hews close to the proven facts of the case.” Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times wrote, “An accurate movie script about a female reporter would involve her being constantly propositioned or harassed by people she covers, while being invited to evening ‘meetings’ that somehow turn into involuntary dates with sources, and bombarded with rape threats on Twitter.” Added Melissa Gomez of the Los Angeles Times, “Hollywood has, for a long time, portrayed female journalists as sleeping with sources to do their job. It’s so deeply wrong, yet they continue to do it. Disappointing that they would apply this tired and sexist trope about Kathy Scruggs, a real reporter.”
On Thursday, Ray defended the film—explaining that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution seems to be pulling focus to “one single minute in a movie that’s 129 minutes long.” Wilde also tweeted to respond to the controversy, saying,“I do not believe Kathy traded sex for tips” and “it was never my intention to suggest she had.” Ray and Brenner, among others, claim that the outsize focus on the Scruggs scene is a deliberate effort to deflect from the real story: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s flawed, and destructive, reporting on Jewell.
The implication about Scruggs in Richard Jewell is seemingly rooted in the film’s extra source material, the book by Georgia U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander and Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Salwen—The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle. The book describes Scruggs as the kind of woman who packed perfume and a pistol in her purse, wore leather miniskirts and fishnet tights to the office, and kept her blouse unbuttoned beyond what some might feel was workplace-appropriate. The reporter’s attire, according to Alexander and Salwen, “did little to dispel a growing ‘sleeps with her sources’ reputation.” But in a statement to Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo this week, the authors clarified that their five years of research—which encompassed “dozens of interviews about Scruggs and an examination of thousands of pages of her deposition testimony and news articles”—never turned up evidence that Scruggs ever traded sex for a story.
Mike King, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor who worked with Scruggs for about eight years, said that, save for that glaring implication, Richard Jewell largely seems to get Scruggs right.
“If you wanted to draw a Hollywood stereotype of a hard-charging female cops reporter, Kathy would fit that bill pretty well,” King said during a phone call with Vanity Fair on Wednesday. “She was a great reporter who used her strength of personality and her looks to work sources…. When you’re a cop reporter, you have to be able to throw it and show it—get in there with them and not take any shit off them. She was great at that, and I think that’s one of the reasons why she was so successful working with cop sources—whether it was beat cops or detectives in the homicide squad. She was pretty fearless…. But it’s just jumping over that last wall to make it look like she traded sexual favors for information. That’s just bullshit.”
Author Robert Coram had a front-row seat to Scruggs’s dealings with law enforcement in the mid ’90s. While researching his first novel, Atlanta Heat, Coram spent several days a week for a few years at Manuel’s Tavern—the homicide cop hangout where Scruggs would sidle up to cops over liquid lunches and happy hours in hopes of coaxing out new information.
“All the cops knew her and respected her and kidded her a lot,” said Coram, who based a character in Atlanta Heat on Scruggs. “I never heard any of them, even when they were drinking, say anything negative about her personally or professionally. The only thing that came close to it was one of them told me one day, ‘You can tell how badly Kathy needs a story by how short her skirt is that day.’”
To Brenner, though, “The Kathy Scruggs situation is much more layered and complicated.” Scruggs’s own brother Lewis has publicly remarked on his sister’s wild streak, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “She was a little bit rebellious…. Her choice of boyfriends was not great.” While King was clear that Scruggs had never slept with sources, he told Vanity Fair that the reporter had “in-house romances [at the paper] that caused us to have to say, ‘You stay over here, you stay over there. Y’all stay away from each other, if at all possible.’ Ya know?”
Brenner never reported on rumors about Scruggs’s romantic life. “Why is that anyone’s business?” Brenner told Vanity Fair. “How this story and source was gotten was never my interest.”
When Brenner read the rumor about Scruggs trading sex for stories in Alexander and Salwen’s book, she felt it was deeply problematic: “Inevitably men get it wrong when they try to write about a woman’s sexuality.”
Both Brenner and Billy Ray, though, say the focus on Scruggs is a diversionary tactic. “This movie is about a hero whose life was completely destroyed by myths created by the FBI and the media, specifically the AJC,” Ray told Deadline. “The AJC hung Richard Jewell, in public…. They editorialized wildly and printed assumptions as facts. They compared him to noted mass murderer Wayne Williams. And this was after he had saved hundreds of lives. Now a movie comes along 23 years later, a perfect chance for the AJC to atone for what they did to Richard and to admit to their misdeeds. And what do they decide to do? They launch a distraction campaign. They deflect and distort…opting to challenge one assertion in the movie rather than accepting their own role in destroying the life of a good man. The movie isn’t about Kathy Scruggs; it’s about the heroism and hounding of Richard Jewell, and what rushed reporting can do to an innocent man. And by the way, I will stand by every word and assertion in the script.”
Said Brenner, “I was appalled by the reflexive snobberies and obliviousness of consequences that the AJC never addressed. The most important rule of reporting is never to reveal a suspect’s name without corroborating evidence. They had none—and neither did the FBI. I am sorry, but it is not enough to say, “law enforcement thinks.” And they didn’t even say that.” Citing the paper that reported there was no evidence against Jewell, Brenner said, “The New York Timesand its editor Joe Lelyveld knew better.”
King acknowledged that the Richard Jewell case “was a turning point in a lot of newspaper discussions about where to draw the line when on identifying suspects…. And I think those are good lessons to share with a movie-going audience, that there are people who are the subject of newspaper stories and of government investigations who look as guilty as Richard appeared to look in those initial stories but who ultimately are totally innocent and whose reputations are dragged through the mud for all the wrong reasons.”
Scruggs died in 2001 from a prescription drug overdose, due, in part, to a chronic back problem, still troubled by the repercussions of her Jewell reporting.
* I had finished grad school and was living in Montgomery County, Maryland in 2002 when the Beltway sniper was picking off people at gas stations and store parking lots. Like everyone else in the area I followed the case very closely. In the October 14 shooting in Manassas, VA I even drove to the area right after the news broke to watch the dragnet. I saw how piss-poor it was. On one corner there were dozens of guys in FBI, DEA, ATF,… flak jackets quickly scanning cars with flashlights. It was clear they were looking for a particular description.
I devoured all news. I watched CNN, Fox News, MSNBC nonstop. I clearly recall every criminal profiler, including former FBI profilers Clint Van Zandt and Robert Ressler, as well as Pat Brown, say with an air of metaphysical certitude that it was a white male. Brown went further and said it was probably a white nationalist type. Anyway, I think we know the rest of the story.
Facing the Beltway snipers, profilers were dead wrong
THE BALTIMORE SUN
December 15, 2002
The typical mass murderer is extraordinarily ordinary,” says James Alan Fox, author of books titled The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder, (Pearson Education, 2000) and Overkill: Mass Murder & Serial Killing Exposed, (Da Capo Press, 1994). He is also a teacher with a textbook: How to Work with the Media (Sage Press, 1993), and maintains a self-promoting Web site named Wolfman Productions. Facilely exploiting his experience in both areas, Fox had previously managed to become a talking head on high-rated broadcast shows.
During the tempestuous three weeks of this October, while the media raged and the Beltway Sniper rampaged, Fox, his colleagues and competitors were truly in their glory. A cross section of ordinary people were being slaughtered as they went their usual ways within range of an assault rifle. That was the only link connecting the crimes — ten dead, three critically wounded — pedestrians, motorists pumping gas, shoppers, a schoolboy, a bus driver. With little to supplement repetitious accounts of the continuing killings, the media offered limitless space for the speculations of self-aggrandizing experts on whodunnit.
“He stops and shoots and doesn’t hear the screams,” Fox dramatically divulged to his alarmed audience. “Others enjoy squeezing the last breath from their victim. It makes it easier for him psychologically to murder.” Clifton Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler, agreed: “This is someone who is cold, who is calculating, who has the skills and doesn’t care who they hurt.”
“This could be a disgruntled employee who was fired. It is someone who is angry,” offered Brent Turvey, who wrote Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis, (Academic Press, 1999) Turvey was echoed by Robert K. Ressler, best-selling author of I Have Lived in the Monster (St Martin’s Press, 1998), and Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI, (St.Martin’s Press, 1993).
Where does the Beltway Sniper hang out? “He’s a weekday warrior. Even snipers have jobs,” declared Fox. On the theory that serial killers strike close to home, D. Kim Rossmo, author of Geographic Profiling (CRC Press, 1999), applied his computerized mapping techniques, which, according to him, narrow the police target by 95 percent on average. “The more killings you have, the better it works,” said the software manufacturer.
Ressler lamented that there were “no behavioral clues at the scene.” Indeed, even the parameters of the sites were uncertain — from where were the shots fired? There were no eyewitnesses, just bodies hit with matching bullets, and sightings of a motor vehicle thought to be a light-colored truck or van. “That vehicle will be in a garage or a lake,” predicted Van Zandt.
The experts were neither misogynists nor racists. They all agreed with Van Zandt that “this is something white males do.” Fox and Van Zandt, along with most others…
* The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s defense of Kathy Scruggs was absurd. It included the following passage about her getting scoops from law enforcement:
“Whenever something would happen, the police would call Kathy. They always trusted her to get the scoop because they knew it would be handled right. She was proud the FBI called her about Jewell. She was proud of the way she reported it to begin with.”
She was essentially a PR person for the FBI. It also conceded that she was a hard partying, pill popping drunk who was once found naked in a taxi at 3 AM, but she never would have slept with a source for a scoop and it is slander that Eastwood put that in his movie. They also don’t understand why the average person thinks they are pushing an agenda and are not a fair and impartial source of factual information for the public.
* Andrew Bacevich has made the point — with regard to military personnel — that as a culture we need to get past this reflexive “respect” for everyone wearing a uniform. As he puts it (I’m paraphrasing) the people in the military are just people.
* FBI profilers got the Unabomber wrong too.
* The idea of psychological profiling was popularised by film and TV. In response, universities began providing courses in “Forensic Psychology”. The fact that law enforcement agencies do not recognise this discipline or its qualifications is irrelevant, as is the general failure of psychological profiling itself.
The bombing and framing of Richard Jewell came out of the interplay of social forces resident in Atlanta and the FBI’s dealings in the city, which included institutional guilt for bugging the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. and successfully using criminal profiling techniques to find Wayne Williams, the Atlanta child murderer. Unlike many other American cities, Atlanta had a less traumatic experience with “civil rights” rioting in the late 1960s. The city’s political elite came to believe that Atlanta’s economic performance caused the “civil rights” riots to simply pass them over, and they developed the moniker that Atlanta was “the city too busy to hate.”
However, having a moniker with “hate” in it means there is plenty of hate to go around. Atlanta, and the rest of Georgia, is not socially stable along racial lines. The moniker also implies that one must be ever “busy” to avoid being overwhelmed by “hate.” Mayor Andrew Young made a bid for Atlanta to host the Olympic Games in 1990. Mayor Young claimed that he lived within 50 yards of the local Nazi Party headquarters as a child,  and was thus motivated for anti-racist reasons to host the games. Competition was stiff as Athens, Greece was also making a bid.
The book inadvertently highlights the unseen logic of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Christopher Caldwell has called it “a second constitution,” meaning that just as the US Constitution allows for 30 round magazines although the Founders only knew of flintlock rifles, the things implied by the Civil Rights Act but not explicitly specified have a legal force all their own. This is different from other laws, where lawyers and judges find all sorts of loopholes or the various bodies of law that aren’t enforced at all.
In the case of Richard Jewell, the implications of the Civil Rights Act fall into two categories: The first is the criminalization of voluntary civic virtue in things like security or neighborhood watches by whites. When working-class whites are free to act to defend their community, the problems of crime are easily controllable, but “civil rights” is a system that cannot tolerate this. Ordinary citizens suppressing crime means ordinary whites can suppress blacks and other non-whites.
The second implication of the Civil Rights Act is that all whites, especially working-class white men, must be the threat. It’s the same principle at work in NATO — “the Russians” must be the threat no matter what the circumstances.
In the early 1960s, the FBI became the enforcement arm of the “civil rights” movement as well as the corresponding Civil Rights Act. As a result, the entire institution was arranged to see Southern, white, working-class men as the enemy, no matter what the circumstances.
Indeed, “civil rights” and affirmative action policies helped the real bomber carry out his attack. He called in a warning to Atlanta’s 911 from a payphone. However, Atlanta’s 911 center was not staffed with the sharpest folks. One can see from the transcript below that black dysfunction was a factor in the attack’s success:
Dispatcher: Zone 5.
911 Operator: You know the address to Centennial Park?
Dispatcher: Girl, don’t ask me to lie to you.
911 Operator: I tried to call ACC, but ain’t nobody answering the phone . . . but I just got this man called talking about there’s a bomb set to go off in thirty minutes in Centennial Park.
Dispatcher: Oh Lord, child. Uh, OK, wait a minute. Centennial Park, you put it in and it won’t go in?
911 Operator: No, unless I’m spelling Centennial wrong. How are we spelling Centennial?
Dispatcher: C-E-N-T-E-N-N-I—how do you spell Centennial?
911 Operator: I’m spelling it right, it [the computer] ain’t taking. 
While they did their best, it is clear the black 911 dispatchers lost critical time when they couldn’t find the address to the Centennial Park. Additionally, no 911 dispatcher had thought to get multiple phone numbers to the Olympics’ security headquarters or to the security tower at Centennial Park.
Here are highlights from the book The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle:
* All those weaknesses were trivial compared with the troubles in Atlanta’s tired and failing downtown. Crime was rampant, with the murder rate consistently among the nation’s worst. White flight and congested roadways had taken their toll. Despite strong growth in suburban areas, the city’s core was shrinking and left Atlanta as the hole in a doughnut, with a population of just 450,000 in a metro area of more than four million.