In Clint Eastwood’s new movie, Richard Jewell, Tom Shaw and Dan Bennett are the names given to the FBI agents relentlessly pursuing the former hero security guard turned suspect in the Atlanta bombing at the Olympics.
Jewell, of course, was innocent. The real bomber was an anti-government survivalist named Eric Rudolph, who would lead authorities on a five-year manhunt. The reporter who appears to offer Shaw’s character sex for a tip really did work for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time of the bombing and really did break the story, with another reporter, that Jewell was under investigation by the FBI. But there’s no evidence she ever traded sex for tips and that scene has been hotly criticized by her former newspaper and those who knew her as false.
There is also no evidence that Tom Shaw and Dan Bennett are real. Those aren’t the names of the real FBI case agents who pursued Jewell, Diader Rosario and Don Johnson. And there’s no evidence that either of the real-life case agents was reporter Kathy Scrugg’s source in real life because she died having never revealed it.
In fact, she was willing to go to jail to avoid doing so (she died young in 2001 of a drug overdose, a mere five years after the fallout over the story, and broken by it, friends say. You can read more about Scruggs’ cause of death here.)
What is true, though, is that authorities in the FBI did aggressively pursue Jewell. Scruggs also wrote stories that questioned their tactics.
“She was proud the FBI called her about Jewell. She was proud of the way she reported it to begin with,” her brother Lewis Scruggs told AJC. But he said she never told him who the source was, either.
Tom Shaw and Dan Bennett appear to be loosely based on Don Johnson and Diader Rosario but are also composite characters, and some of it is completely fictionalized. So, no, they are not real.
Here’s what you need to know:
A Georgia Judge Ordered the Two Reporters to Be Jailed for Refusing to Reveal Who Their Source Was
After being exonerated, Richard Jewell, in real life, filed a defamation suit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper and a host of other American news organizations. Many settled, but the AJC never did and eventually won the case because an appellate court ruled the articles were accurate based on what was known at the time; Jewell was under investigation by the FBI.
A seminal Vanity Fair article on the case in 1997 documents the FBI’s aggressive pursuit of Jewell. AJC says that the FBI kept Jewell under surveillance for months.
In 1999, a Fulton County judge ordered Kathy Scruggs and the other reporter on the story, Ron Martz, to be jailed on contempt charges because they wouldn’t reveal their FBI source. The judge ruled a law protecting reporters from naming sources “did not apply when the reporters were faced with a lawsuit,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
The article says that Jewell was questioned by FBI agents but was never charged and the Justice Department ultimately apologized to him.
The newspaper appealed the Fulton County decision, so the reporters didn’t actually have to go to jail. It was Scruggs’ source that led to the story. She died having never revealed who it was.
The Real FBI Agents on the Case Did Receive Criticism for Their Tactics
According to Slate, the FBI agents in the movie are composite characters. In other words, they’re not real people.
In 1997, the FBI revealed that four FBI special agents in its Atlanta officer were told they might face “possible disciplinary charges” for their roles in the Jewell case, according to The Washington Post.
The four were accused of “poor judgment” but not criminal wrongdoing. The four were identified as “Woody Johnson, who runs the Atlanta office; his deputy, A.B. Llewellyn; and special agents Diader Rosario and Don Johnson.” They were accused of trying to get Jewell to “star in a training video” that was really a ruse to see if he would incriminate himself.
The Vanity Fair article describes how FBI agents Don Johnson and Diader Rosario knocked on Jewell’s mother’s apartment door and told him, “We need your help making a training film.” The next day, Rosario showed up with a search warrant.
Rosario, the article says, was “known for his skills as a negotiator” and “once helped calm a riot of Cuban prisoners in Atlanta.” But Johnson “had a reputation for overreaching” because of a 1987 Albany New York investigation of that community’s then mayor. The mayor was exonerated eventually but argued that the scrutiny cost him a federal judicial appointment, according to Vanity Fair.
In addition, after the Jewell exoneration, a supervisor was notified that he “might be suspended.” That supervisor was David Tubbs, a senior FBI executive, who helped supervise the investigation.
“I’ve been doing criminal defense work for 20 years,” said Jewell’s lawyer, Jack Martin to The New York Times, “and that was the most outrageous interviewing technique I’ve ever seen. It’s indefensible. It was obviously an invalid waiver.” On appeal, Tubbs ended up with a reprimand, the article says.
Tubbs later said he didn’t know about the video technique, according to Greensboro News & Record.
The bombing occurred July 27, 1996, and three days later, “On July 30, FBI agents Don Johnson and Diader Rosario asked Jewell to follow them to FBI headquarters to participate in a training film,” the newspaper reported, citing Jewell’s lawyer.
In real life, Louis Freeh, the former FBI Director, ordered the agents to read Jewell his rights, which ended the training video conversation.
There is an actor who plays Rosario in the movie, but that’s not the Tom Shaw or Dan Bennett character, according to the IMDB cast list for the Eastwood film.
According to Real Clear History, Rosario in real life was also the agent who obtained a search warrant to get Jewell’s hair for testing.