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HEARTS OF THE CITY | Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of ethics, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

November 06, 1996|K. Connie Kang, Times staff writer

Richard Jewell, the Atlanta security guard finally cleared by the Justice Department of involvement in the bombing during the Summer Olympics, says the FBI and news media nearly destroyed him "in their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas." Can you suggest how a similar case could be better handled by law enforcement authorities and the news media?

Father Thomas P. Rausch

Chairman, Department of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University

A person's reputation is precious: damage, once done, is difficult to undo. If the FBI had sufficient reason to consider Jewell a suspect, they were required to investigate, but the investigation should have been done in confidence and without violating his rights. Leaking the story to the press was reprehensible; so were the pop psychological profiles published by the media. According to moral theology, every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation. Jewell is owed at least an apology by the FBI, and the media should remind their publics that Jewell acted properly and wisely in reporting the bomb and clearing people from the area. This has been forgotten in all the speculation.

Richard J. Mouw

President, Fuller Theological Seminary

The problem was not that the FBI treated Jewell as a suspect. Officials do need to investigate all possible leads in a crime of such great magnitude. The complex sin here was that the investigation was ruthlessly pursued in a very public manner, it appeared to be inexcusably drawn out, and it ended without any convincing official acknowledgment of the harm that had been caused to a human being who has a legal right to be presumed innocent. We know that law enforcement officials mess up. We also need to know that they know it. It would be reassuring if this time they showed us their human face by expressing some genuine compassion and remorse.

Ken Uyeda Fong

Senior pastor, Evergreen Baptist Church, Rosemead

Proverbs 15:14 states quite clearly that, "the discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly." The Jewell case outlines the appetite for a scapegoat in high-profile cases and law enforcement and the media's habit of giving in to that pressure. Allegations, regardless of how titillating, should never be leaked or announced in order to protect the innocent until proven guilty. Leads should be pursued by the authorities, but out of sight of the quick-to-judge public. The legitimate media must exercise greater restraint, if not out of respect for people, then at least to rescue itself from practicing tabloid journalism.

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