"Dad, can you come get me?" she asked. She'd been baby-sitting that night for Kevin Austin, one of the editors at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where I worked.
"I thought Kevin was bringing you home," I said.
"He can't," she said. "We're at the paper."
"Because of the bomb," she said.
"The bomb in the park!"
"The Olympic Park! A bomb just went off! That's why we're here!"
I rushed downtown to the newsroom. I was pressed into action. My daughter and I stayed until dawn. On our way out, I grabbed a replated Saturday paper. The headline of that edition said three were dead.
"Why did they lie?" my daughter asked.
"Who lied?" I asked.
"The paper! They said three people were killed. The TV said two."
Alice Hawthorne of Albany had been killed by the bomb, and a Turkish cameraman died of a heart attack. Somebody in the newsroom took the phantom third death from a radio news report.
"Sometimes we make mistakes," I told my daughter.
The CENTENNIAL Olympic Park bombing has been nothing but mistakes for nine years, from the cretins on the emergency phones who first hung up on Eric Rudolph then joked when they couldn't find the address for the park, to the hysterical Richard Jewell coverage by the AJC, to the federal bungling that tipped Rudolph to flee into the forest, to the recent plea bargain that allowed a right-wing domestic terrorist to air his twisted views as if he were just another conservative blogger.The plea agreement let Rudolph, who also bombed two abortion clinics and a gay nightclub, exchange the location of hidden bombs for his life.
The government's willingness to drop the death penalty and let Rudolph plead out is a mystery.
Former Republican congressman and one-time U.S. Attorney Bob Barr was surprised by the decision not to seek the death penalty. "From everything I could see, they had a pretty solid case against him," Barr said.
For one thing, Rudolph will never have to reveal the identity of any associates and, if there were any, how high up they might go.
Rudolph issued a nine-page manifesto. He said the government agreed to give him a life sentence instead of seeking his death because prosecutors knew they couldn't get a jury in Alabama that didn't include anti-abortion zealots. Hell, these days the feds can barely field a prosecution team that doesn't include anti-abortion zealots.
The U.S. attorney in Atlanta, David Nahmias, served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a rabid right-winger who recently blasted his own court for its ruling striking down the death penalty for juveniles.
How could a lawyer who clerked for Scalia choose not to apply the death penalty to a murderous domestic terrorist? Perhaps it's because, in the right-wing theocracy being created by George W. Bush, anti-abortion terrorism is not a serious crime. Perhaps, in America's religious delirium, bombing an abortion clinic is just a good man's fault.
The plea agreement was reached as the howls of righteous Republicans rose against federal judges who aren't conservative enough to suit them.
The Republican sycophants in the media joined the fun, with Time magazine commemorating the 10th anniversary of the domestic terror bombing in Oklahoma with a flattering cover story on far-right author Ann Coulter, who once said her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."
Isn't she precious? So funny and yet so pretty! Oh, ha ha.
Two weeks ago, conservative author Edwin Vieira issued what sounded perilously close to a death threat against Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. According to the Washington Post, Vieira said Kennedy should be impeached, then added that his bottom line for dealing with the Supreme Court was a quote from Joseph Stalin: "No man, no problem." That was only part of Stalin's slogan. The full quote calls for murder: "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem."
I guess it's OK for conservatives to talk like that these days, what with their total dominance of government and media.
As part of the ongoing fiasco, Rudolph has been subpoenaed to testify about park security in a civil suit against the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
For the past two years, since his capture, Rudolph has been in a Birmingham jail watching TV, which he calls "the Electric Jew," according to Henry Schuster, a CNN producer and co-author with former GBI agent Charles Stone of the new book, Hunting Eric Rudolph.
Schuster thinks one of the things Rudolph learned while glued to the Electric Jew was that abortion is now the No. 1 hot button among conservatives. Rudolph's manifesto reflects a much heavier focus on abortion than he had in his pre-arrest days, when he only opposed the abortion of white babies, according to Schuster.
The author suspects Rudolph harbors the belief that he will one day be hailed as a hero and could be freed as a result. I can see it now: Eric Rudolph with a WSB radio talk show, a blog and an Aryan girlfriend. Maybe even the lovely Ann Coulter!
The great irony of the original inaccurate headline in the AJC is that it ultimately proved to be correct. There was a third death from the park bomb. It just took a long time. The victim was Kathy Scruggs, the AJC's lead reporter on the Richard Jewell story and the scapegoat for the paper's over-the-top coverage.Scruggs was a wild child, a hard-drinking, tough-talking police reporter of the old school. She broke the story that the feds were looking at Jewell as a suspect and the AJC editors unleashed the dogs. The paper's coverage was the journalistic equivalent of piling on. After the feds announced three months later that Jewell was no longer a suspect, he filed libel suits. NBC and CNN paid up, but the AJC is fighting the suit to this day. Roger Kintzel, the AJC's publisher at the time, wrote a piece for the New York Times calling his paper's Jewell coverage "fair, accurate and responsible." It was not.
Jewell's lawyer, Lin Wood, tore into Scruggs and other AJC employees during depositions. Scruggs became depressed. The newspaper shoved her aside. She had serious medical problems. She was arrested twice on intoxication charges.
On Sept. 2, 2001, just three weeks shy of her 43rd birthday, Scruggs was found dead in her Cherokee County home, wearing an Atlanta Motor Speedway T-shirt and panties. The cause of death was acute morphine toxicity, according to the GBI medical examiner.
I'll always wonder what would have happened to Scruggs if Kintzel, then-Editor Ron Martin and then-Managing Editor John Walter had had the decency to admit their newspaper's obvious mistakes and apologize to Jewell. But they were powerful men with reputations to protect.
What a fiasco this has all been. What a disgrace.
Alice Hawthorne is dead. Kathy Scruggs is dead. But Eric Rudolph is alive and well, patiently waiting for his conservative soul brothers to set him free.
Senior Editor Doug Monroe worked for the AJC for 13 years. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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