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Character assassination 101: Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell biopic rips ‘fake news’ for 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing smear

Character assassination 101: Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell biopic rips ‘fake news’ for 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing smear
Hollywood director Clint Eastwood takes a critical look at the FBI and an overzealous news media in a new fact-based biopic telling the saga of Richard Jewell, a security guard fingered for a bomb plot he tried to stop.

While working as a guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, Jewell discovered a backpack containing three pipe bombs. Immediately alerting police and helping to evacuate the area before the devices could detonate, Jewell saved scores of people from death or injury and was cheered for his heroism – but that would soon change.

Three days after the tragedy, Jewell found himself a suspect in the bombing, becoming a “person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation, which profiled Jewell as a potential ‘lone wolf’ attacker. A trial by media then ensued, in which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper led the charge in positing his role in the lethal bomb plot (one woman was killed by shrapnel and dozens injured).

“Jewell fits the profile of the lone bomber, a frustrated white man who is a police wannabe who seeks to become a hero,” Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs – portrayed by Oliva Wilde – says in Eastwood’s trailer.

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Though Jewell was ultimately cleared of all suspicion by US Attorney Kent Alexander some three months after the bombing, by that time his name and reputation had been dragged through the mire.

In an effort to clear his name further, Jewell later filed a number of libel suits against media outlets that ran with the story – including NBC, the New York Post and CNN, among others – ultimately winning settlements in all but one of the cases. Several outlets still stood by their coverage, however. Jewell died in 2007.

Following Jewell’s exoneration, by 1998 the prime suspect for the Atlanta bombing was Eric Rudolph, a self-avowed anti-LGBT militant. He was arrested in connection to the attack in 2003 in North Carolina, and later confessed to three other bombings on a lesbian bar and two abortion clinics.

The film, which arrives in theaters December 13, stars Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell, who appears alongside Kathy Bates playing Jewell’s mother, Jon Hamm in the role of lead FBI investigator and Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s lawyer.

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