After a crime like yesterday's Boston bombings, it can be worthwhile to reflect on how we've reacted to similar tragedies. Consider the case of Richard Jewell.
A terrorist detonated a bomb at Atlanta's Olympic Park, during the 1996 Olympic games. That terrorist was Eric Robert Rudolph, who pled guilty to the crime along with a number of abortion clinic bombings. Mr. Rudolph is presently a guest at the ADMAX hotel in Florence Colorado.
For nine years, Richard Jewell labored under suspicion that he'd been the bomber. In fact, Richard Jewell was a jewel of a man, a private security guard who spotted the bomb, informed the police of its existence, and escorted park visitors off the site until the bomb exploded. Jewell was a hero.
Such an unlikely hero, it occurred to the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, that he must have planted the bomb. After all, private security guards are losers. Mall cops. And Jewell, for all his common sense and bravery in a crisis, was an odd man. A little weird, a law-enforcement wannabe who'd just happened to be in the right place at the right time, then went on tv talking as though he was an actual cop. And he was fat.
Obviously that weirdo Jewell had planted the bomb so he could take credit for discovering it.
Or so it seemed, for some reason, to the FBI, which leaked Jewell as the primary suspect, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which took the leak, a perfect story after all, and used it to make Jewell's life Hell on Earth.
And to All Of Us, who behaved like beasts toward Jewell, because after all CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the FBI had fingered him as the bomber.
Jewell died 11 years after the bombing, exonerated and a little richer thanks to several settlements against media outlets like CNN, but still a broken man. In its obituary, the New York Times, which had also reported on the allegations against Jewell, eulogized him as the hero of the Atlanta attack.
Which did Richard Jewell no good whatsoever.
Eric Robert Rudolph has never apologized to Jewell. Nor, for that matter, have the people of Georgia who spat on him. All Of Us.
If the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and All Of Us, could get the Atlanta bombing so tragically wrong in 1996, they, and we, can do it today. In the days to come, it would behoove All Of Us to take what the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and their ilk, have to say about suspects and motives with a grain of salt.
Lest we find outselves owing someone a Richard Jewell-sized apology.
Perhaps the best apology we, All Of Us, can give to Richard Jewell is to be a little more skeptical of what we're told by the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and their ilk.
It will do Richard Jewell no good whatsoever, but it will make All Of Us better citizens.