Saturday, September 01, 2007

Richard Jewell (III)

I came across this outstanding article from 1997.

It deserves to be read in its entirety. Here are a few points that caught my eye:

A. Louis Freeh might not have told the whole truth in his memoirs. (gasp!). He portrays himself as disengaged from the investigation. Brenner found that some FBI agents thought differently:

The case became an investigative catastrophe, which laid bare long-simmering resentments of many F.B.I. career professionals regarding the micromanagement style and imperious attitude of Louis Freeh and his inner circle of former New York prosecutors, who have worked together since their days at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District. Within the bureau, the beleaguered director now has a new nickname: J. Edgar Hoover with children.

In November and December, the Office of Professional Responsibility conducted an exhaustive investigation into the Jewell affair. Responding to an attempt by headquarters and certain officials to distance themselves, according to F.B.I. sources, several agents, including a senior F.B.I. supervisor in Atlanta, have provided the O.P.R. with signed statements insisting that Freeh himself was responsible for "oversight" during the crisis. These agents "shocked the investigators" because they reiterated, when asked who was in charge of the overall command of the investigation, that it was the director himself.
Moreover, Freeh acts as though leaks were something he deplored but had to live with (“That’s Washington”). Brenner, in contrast, shows that Freeh and those around him were masters at leaking and using the press to make themselves and the Bureau look good.

B. The immolation of Richard Jewell was not something that just happened. The Bureau lit the match and poured the gasoline. The first tip to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution naming Jewell came from an FBI agent. Brenner’s reporting suggests that the leak may have been part of the G-men’s strategy to break Jewell and that Freeh was partly responsible for setting the plan in motion:

Freeh made a decision: however experienced Montgomery, Fuentes, and Mawn were, this investigation would be run by Division 5 of the F.B.I., the National Security Division, a former counterintelligence unit that has been looking for a purpose since the Cold War ended. Trained in observation, division members rarely made a criminal case--their strength was intimidation and manipulation rather than the deliberate gathering of evidence to be presented in court. The F.B.I. promptly declared the bombing a terrorism case and placed it under the authority of Bob Bryant, head of the division. David Tubbs of Division 5 was sent to Atlanta to be the spokesman and to augment Woody Johnson, the Atlanta special agent in charge (S.A.C.), who had been trained in hostage rescue and who was awkward in press briefings. Tubbs was not as experienced in criminal cases as Mawn or Montgomery, who returned to Newark and Quantico, respectively, "to get out of the line of fire," according to numerous F.B.I. sources. But Bryant and Freeh were reportedly micromanaging the S.A.C.’s and, later, the case agents Don Johnson and Diader Rosario.
The FBI intimidation of Jewell was by no means subtle. They followed his every move in three and four car caravans. They questioned his friends at their job sites. They sent 40 people to search his mother’s small 2-bedroom apartment.

C. The fruitless and vicious pursuit of Richard Jewell had other consequences. First, the real bomber--Eric Rudolph--was free to commit other crimes including a fatal bombing in Birmingham. That is a point often overlooked when a case of wrongful prosecution or a police rush to judgment takes place. The innocent suffer while the guilty are free to commit more crimes.

Second, AG Janet Reno and her deputy Jamie Gorelick became concerned with the FBI’s treatment of Jewell and their overall handling of the case. Did the Atlanta bombing and the FBI’s tactics influence subsequent policy for terrorism investigations? It’s hard to tell, I’ve seen no reporting that looks at this point. But it seems like an interesting question.

When it comes to “The Wall” and FISA, we usually tell the story backwards. We start at 9-11-01 and look for the “mistakes” that let it happen. The Jewell story offers us a different perspective. Unfortunately, at this time, no one has dug into the question of how the FBI mingled intelligence and investigation functions in the Atlanta case. Nor have they looked at the internal DOJ reaction to that part of the fiasco.

Brenner does provide us with one telling passage:

But the local U.S. attorney, Kent Alexander, insisted that their phones were not tapped. "There are no wiretap warrants," he said.
Maybe I am just the suspicious type, , but that denial is sounds almost Nifongesque.

D. Brenner is quite good at showing the harm done by the unholy alliance of cops and police reporters. When it comes to crime stories, the press is not the guardian of our rights; they are the compromised junior partners of police. At worst, they become the willing accessories of rogue police and prosecutors.

The page-one story had a double byline: Kathy Scruggs and Ron Martz. Walter had told these two early on that they would be the reporters assigned to any Olympic catastrophe. Martz, who had covered the Gulf War, had been assigned the security beat for the Olympics; Scruggs routinely covered local crime. Scruggs had good contacts in the Atlanta police, and she was tough. She was characterized as "a police groupie" by one former staff member. "Kathy has a hard edge that some people find offensive," one of her editors told me, but he praised her skills. Police reporters are often "dictation pads" for local law enforcement; recently the American Journalism Review sharply criticized The A.J.C. for the scanty confirmation and lack of skepticism in its coverage of Jewell.
Finally, Brenner relates a small, but telling, anecdote about America’s Favorite Failing Newsreader. This takes place after Jewell has to cancel an appearance on the Today Show after he is exonerated by the DOJ:

That evening a very testy Katie Couric tracked Bryant down at Nadya Light’s apartment, where we had gone to watch the news. "I want you to know that I canceled interviewing Barbra Streisand in L.A. for Richard Jewell. Don’t think he is always going to be a news story. No one will care about him in three days," she said, according to Bryant.

So America’s Aging Former Perky Sweetheart is a bitch. She was right about one thing. No one cared about the wrongly accused hero. For weeks the press had made his life a living Hell and passed along every scurrilous rumor and vicious lie. That was called NEWS. The truth, however, did nothing for the ratings and Richard Jewell’s whole story never got the attention it deserved. That’s why they are called the drive-by media.

UPDATE: This is how Katie Couric reported the death of Richard Jewell:

Back in 1996, the FBI investigated Richard Jewell, an Atlanta security guard, in connection with the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. Richard Jewell died today of complications from diabetes. He was 44. Jewell was never charged with any crime. There is much more CBS… [FADE-OUT]

Sometimes the MSM just leaves you speechless.

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