Like his deeply flawed coverage of the 1996 Olympic bombing, Tom Brokaw’s so-called apology this week to the late Richard Jewell leaves much to be desired.
The NBC News special correspondent this week said in the first of two nearly unintelligible tweets: “re richard jewell. 24 hours after the bombing i talked at length with a sr fbi official – who did not wave me off jewel as a suspect. i reported that and speculated why. but my last line was for now he’s just a person of interest. when the truth emerged i apologized.”
Brokaw added in the second tweet, “nbc made a substantial $ payment to the family without going through contentious negotiaton. richard and his mother went through a painful time which i deeply regret. i hope we all learned a lesson, includjng the FBI which was my principal source.”
re richard jewell. 24 hours after the bombing i talked at length with a sr fbi official – who did not wave me off jewel as a suspect.
i reported that and speculated why. but my last line was for now he’s just a person of interest.
when the truth emerged i apologized.
— Tom Brokaw (@tombrokaw) December 25, 2019
nbc made a substantial $ payment to the family without going through contentious negotiaton.
richard and his mother went through a painful time which i deeply regret. i hope we all learned a lesson, includjng the FBI which was my principal source
— Tom Brokaw (@tombrokaw) December 25, 2019
A couple of things stand out in Brokaw’s remarks.
First, he says he merely “reported” what an FBI official told him, adding further that he only “speculated why” Jewell was a suspect. Brokaw then says, “My last line was for now [Jewell is] just a person of interest.”
This is an awfully generous characterization of Brokaw’s contributions to the media frenzy that destroyed the life of the heroic security guard. So generous, in fact, that it qualifies as historical revisionism.
After it was first reported that Jewell was a suspect in the Atlanta bombing, Brokaw went on national television and said: “The speculation is that the FBI is close to ‘making the case’ in their language.”
“They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him,” he added. “But you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case.”
Brokaw said in subsequent broadcasts that Jewell was “on the shortlist of suspects,” and that the security guard was “still the central focus.” The NBC anchor said he confirmed the details with “very high-ranking federal law enforcement officials in Washington and in Atlanta.”
Jewell, of course, was innocent.
Brokaw’s idle speculation and sloppy reporting ended up costing NBC more than $500,000 in a settlement to Jewell. The network announced the payout in an intentionally vague statement that claimed it had “resolved” its differences with Jewell’s lawyers “after a vigorous and thoughtful exchange of views in which both sides defended the correctness of their positions.”
NBC’s refusal to admit error is important because it brings us to the second problem with Brokaw’s supposed apology. He writes, “when the truth emerged i apologized.”
I find no evidence of Brokaw doing any such thing in 1996 after Jewell was cleared as a potential suspect. I checked the LexisNexis archives and found nothing. Searches of NBC News’s online properties also yielded no results. Neither NBCUniversal Archives nor NBC News have responded to the Washington Examiner’s request for comment.
If Brokaw ever did say he was sorry, it would have come as a surprise to Jewell, who told a Chicago Tribune columnist in 2003 that “nobody had apologized to him.”
NBC News itself certainly never apologized to Jewell, who died in 2007 from heart failure. In fact, contemporaneous reporting at the time of NBC’s settlement with the maligned security guard states specifically that the network went out of its way to avoid an apology.
“NBC also told us it is neither retracting nor apologizing for these comments made by Brokaw during the network’s prime-time Olympic coverage,” CBS News reported on Dec. 9. 1996.
ABC News’s Tim O’Brien reported that same day, “NBC will not have to apologize or issue a retraction.”
“NBC paid an undisclosed cash settlement to Jewell to avoid an anticipated lawsuit, but made no public apology and instead merely noted the resolution of the matter on Monday’s ‘NBC Nightly News,'” Variety reported at the time.
It is true. The closest NBC came to admitting error in 1996 was during a brief Dec. 9 news segment in which Brokaw quickly recited the basics of the network’s settlement with Jewell. The lead anchor then moved on to the next news item without offering an apology to the hero of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.
There are some who may feel compelled this week to give Brokaw an “attaboy” for apologizing to a dead man 23 years after the fact. I am not one of those people.
Author: Becket Adams
Source: Washington Examiner: In supposed apology to Richard Jewell, Tom Brokaw revises history