ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: Judging Jewell (2014)

Directed by Adam Hootnick

The state of journalism is in flux with the expansion of social media and instant reporting (or gratification depending on how you look at it). Long ago it stopped being about who got it right, and instead news agency deal in sensationalism and who got it first. Turn of the century “yellow journalism” by William Randolph Hearst and others made sure journalistic integrity was a thing of the past. But in the heightened technological age of Facebook and Twitter, the social court of opinion is as harsh as it’s been. But just before that precipice was the unfortunate story of Richard Jewell, and how a miscarriage of journalism can trump the due diligence and job well done by the justice system.

Richard Jewell was a minimum wage security guard during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games, and is responsible for saving the lives of over a hundred the night a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Park. I place the word “saving” in italics because in the days and weeks following his heroic actions, Jewell soon became public enemy #1, and society lambasted and scapegoated his integrity and his pride, accusing him of being responsible. Hootnick’s short film is one of the better example of the power of the 30 for 30 shorts series.

Hootnick highlights not just the story of the bombing and subsequent events, but he highlights the underlying causes of the gruesome public trial that followed. We live in a world where everyone’s an expert, and whether we have all the evidence, some of it, or even in some cases no evidence at all, the greater public makes the decision on the fate of a person’s legacy. The film beautifully concludes with a statement made by Jewell after being cleared of all charges, claiming his name cleared. However, it had already been dragged through the mud enough that not all could come clean, with some still accusing him of having gotten away with it. I hope that in the future we can recognize and praise our heroes a little better than the disservice we bestowed upon Richard Jewell.

*** – Good

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