Media Law was a class I wasn’t to excited about. I took in the summer with Dr. Stevenson, he gave us ample time to read and study important case studies. Below is the first case study I did in the class. The Atlanta Journal – Constitution v. Jewell interested me because I am from atlanta, read the AJC and it involved the bombing at Centennial Park which I remembered well.

Case studies require many hours of reading and writing. After writing my first case study I quickly learned Media Law wasn’t in my future.  However, this class was important because I helped me understand ethical and legal issues in the field of mass communication. Every future journalist or broadcaster must learn these important ethics and laws.



David Pruett

Media 421

Case Report 1

The Atlanta Journal – Constitution v. Jewell


Court of Appeals of Georgia

Circumstances: In the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Georgia a bombing happened in Centennial Olympic Park. Richard Jewell involvement in the incident caused a chain reaction of media frenzy.

Jewell was responsible for saving the lives of many people. Jewell stats that he saw a strange package and called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the package. Jewell soon realized the package was an explosive devise and along with police evacuate the patrons surrounding that area of Centennial Olympic Park.

Jewell’s efforts helped him receive multi interviews following the incident. Jewell received 10 interviews and also a photo-shoot in the follow days. Jewell then became a public figure to the public. Soon after he was investigated by the FBI Jewell became a suspect. The court had to decide if Jewell was a private or public figure. That matters because of how to treat Jewell in court if the situation came about. The court decided he was a “voluntary limited-purpose public figure.” Jewell appealed the ruling. The court had to decide if he was involuntary or voluntary limited-purpose public figure.

Questions: What causes a man to become an “involuntary limited-purpose public figure” vs. a “voluntary limited-purpose public figure?” Because Jewell decided to do multiple media interview does that make him a voluntary public figure?

Decision: The court at first determined that Jewell was a “voluntary limited-purpose public figure” because of the way he appeared all over the press in the days following the incident of Centennial Park. Jewell appealed the titled. After going through multiple evidence and facts of how Jewell handled the situation. There was plenty of evidence supporting the courts determination of Jewell being a voluntary public figure. “The media spokesman who facilitated many of the interviews told Jewell he was under no obligation to do any interviews, but Jewell nevertheless voluntarily made media appearances.” Once Jewell began fighting the title it became aware to the court that he had significant evidence supporting Jewell that he was an involuntary public figure. He was “initially drawn into the controversy unwillingly” and felt it was duty to inform the public that the park was safe again. Jewell did not inject or thrust himself in the incident. Along with the evidence and Jewell’s arguments the court concluded that Richard Jewell was an “involuntary limited-purpose public figure.”

Precedence supporting the Plaintiff

  • Working on duty during an incident you are forced to take action. (Dameron v. Washington Magazine)
  • Reaching the requirements to become a public figure. (New York Times v. Sullivan)

Precedence supporting the appellant:

  • A private figure becomes a public figure by gaining public attention through press and media. (Gertz vs. Robert, Inc)
  • The three prong test to determine weather private or public (Silvester v American Broadcasting Cos.)



Importance of Case: This case is very important because it brings up the question of what makes a private figure become public. When they are deemed public are they voluntary or involuntary? Determining that is important because it can alter the outcome of a court case and also affect the press when it comes to how many times they want to interview a public or private figure.

Quote: “It is no answer to the assertion that one is a public figure to say, truthfully, that one doesn’t choose to be. It is sufficient . . . that [Jewell] voluntarily engaged in a course that was bound to invite attention and comment.” (Supreme Court ruling on Actual Malice Rule)


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