Editor’s note: On June 1, 2004, Judge John Mather ruled that reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution could not be forced to reveal the sources who told them Jewell was a suspect in the Olympic Park bombing. Mather’s ruling enforced the Georgia Court of Appeals’ reversal of his previous decision ordering the reporters to reveal their sources.
ATLANTA — Back in state court where his lawsuit against The Atlanta Journal-Constitution started, former Olympics security guard Richard Jewell is again trying to prove he was defamed.
Attorneys for Jewell want the newspaper to release the names of two law enforcement sources. They reportedly said Jewell was a suspect in the 1996 bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.
To make his case, Jewell needs to know the identities of those anonymous sources so he can question their credibility, said his lawyer, Lin Wood.
“We’re somewhat back to square one,” Wood said. “The truth is this newspaper would be embarrassed for the public to know the truth about its confidential sources.”
Fulton State Court Judge John R. Mather heard arguments recently over whether seven sentences published in the Journal-Constitution in the summer of 1996 merit an order forcing the newspaper to reveal its sources.
The sentences cite law enforcement sources as saying Jewell was a suspect in the bombing, fit the profile of the bomber and wanted to be a hero by claiming to save lives from the bomb. Authorities now believe Eric Robert Rudolph, who was arrested May 31 in Murphy, N.C., placed the bomb.
Rudolph was arrested after more than five years on the run.
“These were accurate statements,” said Peter Canfield, the newspaper’s attorney. “Every court that’s ever looked at this has said Jewell was the focus of the investigation.”
Mather previously ruled in Jewell’s favor but was overturned on appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case last year. Mather is considering the case and probably will take several weeks or months to make a ruling.
Jewell, now 40, may have some difficulty winning his case because libel law protects statements that are true, Canfield said. Jewell has acknowledged the truth of some of the newspaper’s statements during interviews.
“If ... a plaintiff in a libel case alleged that a certain statement was libelous while admitting in another statement that the fact was true, his burden of proving that statement as false could not possibly be met,” wrote the Georgia Court of Appeals in 2001.
Wood argued that the absolute truth or falsity of the statements is what should be considered — not what Jewell believes.
As a public figure, the courts have ruled that Jewell must meet a higher standard to win his libel lawsuit. Jewell would have to show the newspaper printed inaccuracies and knew or suspected the information was false.