Fitz’s Hero Watch, pt. 2
I recently assembled a collection of Joe Fitzgerald columns that proclaim various people as heroes. So, naturally I’d be remiss not to point out today’s column about the late Richard Jewell, the security guard at the ’96 Olympics who saved a bunch of people from a bomb, then became a suspect in the bombing, and then got vicious abuse rained upon him by the media (Howie Carr referred to him as “The Unabubba”), before being cleared of any charges, and ultimately dying.
“This one’s for a man who’ll never get to read it, a man who’ll always be remembered for a crime he didn’t commit,” Fitz writes. “This one’s for Richard Jewell. Remember him?”
Actually yes, we do. From several previous Joe Fitz columns. Today’s piece describes Jewell thusly:
He was “the roly-poly loser,” “the simpleton of a security guard,” “the sad sack,” “the failed cop from Bumpkinville.” He was called all of that and more here in Boston as he was throughout the country back in the summer of 1996 when, after being hailed as a hero for saving countless lives by his quick reaction to danger, he was tossed to the ravenous wolves of media pundits who mercilessly tore him apart… He was mocked because, at 33, he still lived with his mother. A comedian called him “white trash.” A psychologist said “he sounds like someone who craves excitement in the same way an arsonist does,” adding, “I would not be surprised if there is some history of violence in his past.”
Here’s how Fitz described him in 1996, as he took it upon himself to apologize for an out-of-control media.
Oops, sorry we called you a “roly-poly loser” in headlines. Oops, sorry we called you “a beefy nobody,” “a sad sack,” “a failed cop from Bumpkinville.” Oops, sorry they called you “a simpleton of a security guard.” Oops, sorry we published the knee-jerk observations of a local shrink who theorized you may have “craved excitement in the same way an arsonist does” and that he “would not be surprised if there is some history of violence” in your past.
And in 97:
Richard Jewell reminded us we learned nothing. Boston writers mocked him as “a sad sack; a failed cop from Bumpkinville; a simpleton of a security guard.” Oops, wrong again.
Remember Richard Jewell, the security guard once suspected as the bomber of Atlanta’s Centennial Park? He was described by one headline writer as a “roly-poly loser” and by columnists as “a sad sack,” “a failed cop from Bumpkinville,” “a simpleton of a security guard.” One story even quoted a local shrink as suggesting “he sounds like someone who craves excitement the way an arsonist does” and “I would not be surprised if there is some history of violence in his family.” The only problem was, he didn’t do it.
While Richard Jewell was still regarded as the prime suspect in the bombing at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, local journalists mocked him as a “sad sack,” a “simpleton,” a “beefy nobody,” a “roly-poly loser,” even quoting a local shrink who “would not be surprised if there is some history of violence in his past.” Ooops. It wasn’t Jewell after all. No one apologized to Richard for that.
A few years later another “loser,” Richard Jewell, a security guard at the 1996 Winter Olympics in Atlanta, would find himself in the same boat after emerging as the original suspect in the park bombing there. He was ridiculed as “a roly-poly loser,” “a sad sack,” “a simpleton,” and also because, at 33, he still lived with his mother. But like Bennett, he was innocent.
And it prompted a whimsical thought: What a statement it would have made if Richard Jewell had been accorded that honor instead. Remember him? A security guard at the 1996 summer Games in Atlanta, he emerged as the prime suspect in the bombing of Centennial Park and found himself ridiculed in papers all across the country, including this one, which labeled him “a roly-poly loser.” It turned out he was innocent
And if editors here knew then what we all know now, they never would have taunted Olympic bombing suspect Richard Jewell with a Page 1 headline labeling him a “Roly-Poly Loser.” Wrong!
Remember the ridicule heaped upon Richard Jewell when he was the prime suspect in Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic Park bombing? Boston papers mocked him as “a sad sack” and “a roly-poly loser.”
Jewell, a security guard at those Games, had originally been hailed as a hero for spotting the bomb and steering citizens away from it before it exploded, killing one and injuring 111 others. But when it was later leaked that he had been called in for questioning, that’s all it took to trigger a witch hunt, even though he was never charged. He became “a simpleton of a security guard, a failed cop from Bumpkinville, a roly-poly loser, a beefy nobody,” all of which was written locally while he was pleading for fairness in Atlanta.
What happened to Jewell was disgraceful and sad, but that’s not excuse for disgraceful and sad eruptions of hackery.