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In a victory for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Fulton County, Ga., judgehas determined that all but one of the statements relying onconfidential sources that the newspaper published about former securityguard Richard Jewell after the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing werenot libelous. Fulton County State Court Judge John R. Mather also declined to compelthe Journal-Constitution to reveal confidential sources that providedinformation about Jewell, who became, for a time, the focus of thebombing investigation. Jewell v. Cox Enterprises, No. 97 VS 0122804(Fult. St. June 1, 2004). The ruling leaves Jewell free to pursue a libel claim on only onestatement by the newspaper for which he sought the identities ofconfidential sources — that authorities once believed he made a 911 callwarning of the bomb. Mather’s order does not address other statementsJewell claims are defamatory. Jewell was subsequently cleared of any involvement. A North Carolinaman, Eric Robert Rudolph, was eventually indicted by federal grandjuries and is awaiting trial on charges associated with the park bombingas well as the bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic. Neither Journal-Constitution attorney Peter C. Canfield nor Jewellattorney L. Lin Wood Jr. could be reached for comment. Mather’s ruling comes 11 months after Wood renewed his request to compelthe Journal-Constitution to reveal its sources and more than two yearsafter the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned earlier decisions byMather ordering the paper to reveal those sources. In October 2001, the appellate court also determined that Jewell was apublic figure, meaning that he would be required to prove not only thatpublished statements about him were false, but also that the newspaperacted with malice or reckless disregard for the truth in publishingthem. That ruling also delineated a balancing test for the lower courts toapply before ordering that confidential news sources be revealed. Thebalancing test required Mather to make a summary judgment determinationas to whether the allegedly libelous statements were legally viable. Journal-Constitution attorneys always have contended that the publishedstatements Jewell identified as defamatory were not libelous becausethey were true. In a nine-page ruling issued Monday afternoon, Mather concurred with the Journal-Constitution, finding that reports stating that investigatorsbelieved Jewell may have planted the bomb and that the security guardfit an FBI profile of a lone bomber have “not been shown to besubstantially false.” Mather criticized the Journal-Constitution‘s “more disparagingcharacterizations” of Jewell as a “‘loser’ with a ‘celebrity’ complex”as “bordering on ridicule.” He said those descriptions “served only tosensationalize an already newsworthy story without sensitivity to theplaintiff.” However, the judge also referenced a report by the U.S. Department ofJustice’s Office of Professional Responsibility that described Jewell ashaving “fit the profile of a person who might create an incident so hecould emerge as a hero.” That statement, and a second statement in the report that Jewell hademerged as “the principal (though not the only) suspect” in the bombinginvestigation, effectively ended any claims that Jewell was defamed bysaying he fit the profile of a suspected Olympic Park bomber, Mathersaid. Mather also identified as basically true published statements suggestinginvestigators believed at the time that Jewell had planted the bomb.Mather cited Jewell’s own words in a CNN interview in which heacknowledged that the FBI leaked his name to the media because agentssuspected he was the bomber. In determining that statements regarding whether Jewell had planted thebomb were not libelous, the judge also referred to a federal memorandumconcerning search warrants of Jewell’s property. “While the Court has some misgivings about a party’s ability to admitthe subjective content of another’s thoughts,” Mather wrote, the GeorgiaCourt of Appeals Atlanta Journal-Constitution v. Jewell ruling providedguidance “which this Court is bound to follow.” AtlantaJournal-Constitution v. Jewell, 251 Ga. App. 808 (2001). The appellate ruling noted that if a plaintiff in a libel case “allegedthat a certain statement was libelous while admitting in anotherstatement that the fact was true, his burden of proving that thestatement was false could not possibly be met.”

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