AJC fires reporter, issues corrections to UGA football story

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has fired investigative reporter Alan Judd for “violating the organization’s journalistic standards” in an article, first published on June 27, about how the University of Georgia’s football program rallied around two players accused of sexual assault in recent years, the newspaper announced Wednesday.

The AJC issued corrections to the story, changed the headline, subheadline and portions of the text in the article that can now be viewed for free on its website. However, the AJC declined UGA’s demand to retract the article that was issued in a nine-page letter sent July 11 by the school’s attorney Michael M. Raeber.

In a statement released yesterday, Editor-in-Chief Leroy Chapman said, “AJC editors and attorneys investigated each complaint raised by university officials in the letter and found two elements of the story that did not meet the news organization’s journalistic standards.”

Although the article stated – and was promoted with headlines and teaser tweets implying – Kirby Smart’s football program retained 11 different players accused of sexual misconduct and domestic violence, it only went into detail on accusations against Jamaal Jarrett and Adam Anderson.

This isn’t the first time Judd’s work has been questioned. As reported by UGASports’s Jason Butt on July 16, Judd resigned from the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1988 after calls and letters from subjects quoted and written about in a series titled “Hollow Victories” said they were misquoted or inaccurately depicted.

The Courier-Journal was forced to issue “10 corrections, two clarifications and a statement” after Judd failed to produce the quotes he said he had on tape.

When Judd didn’t answer phone calls from UGASports, he did respond to an e-mail inquiry with “off-the-record comments.” However, on-the-record and off-the-record comments are agreed upon beforehand by a reporter and a subject, and UGASports didn’t agree nor was seeking any off-the-record remarks.

“The following is off the record: something that happened 35 years ago, during a rough period in my life, has no bearing on anything today. The question you need to ask yourself is whether it is appropriate for a government agency — (In) this case, UGA — to use public resources to try to dig up dirt on a journalist who has published uncomfortable but true stories about that government agency.

“Obviously this has been fed to you — even my personal telephone number, which is known to a relatively small number of people at UGA. Is your devotion to the “Dawgs” so great that you want to try to destroy a person whose work over the past century has exposed atrocities in the state mental hospitals, saving countless lives; helped expose a cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools that had life-altering detrimental effects on thousands of poor African-American children; spurred legislative changes to protect children in the state’s foster care system; and much more.

“So do whatever you want to do to ingratiate yourself with Coach Smart and others at UGA. Drag up the worst moment in someone’s life from 3 1/2 decades ago, and ignore everything since then.

“I hope whatever momentary advantage you gain with UGA is worth the personal degradation you put yourself through.

“Again, every word here is off the record. I might consider talking to you next week. Right now I’m too busy dealing with threats from Georgia “fans” — making sure that my family and I are safe — to deal with you any more.”

This isn’t the AJC’s first brush with controversy. In 1996, it was the first newspaper to report that Richard Jewell, the security guard who first discovered the Centennial Olympic Park bomb and therefore saved hundreds of lives after most of the area was cleared before the explosion, was actually being treated as a possible suspect by the FBI.

For months, Jewell endured endless media reports implying to various degrees that he planted the bomb so he could find it and become a hero. He was finally exonerated in late October of 1996, roughly three months after the bomb killed Alice Hawthorne and injured more than 100 other Olympic spectators.

After his exoneration, Jewell filed libel lawsuits against the New York Post, CNN, the AJC, NBC News and Piedmont College. All of those organizations reached out-of-court settlements with Jewell with only one exception, the AJC.

According to Jewell, who passed away in 2007, his lawsuit against the AJC was filed because its headline, “FBI suspects ‘hero’ guard may have planted bomb,” “pretty much started the whirlwind” of media scrutiny that literally followed him for months until he was cleared.

In one article, the AJC compared Jewell to serial killer Wayne Williams, who was convicted of two 1981 murders but is suspected of being responsible for at least 24 of the 30 Atlanta Child Murders that took place from 1979-1981.

The AJC refused to issue Jewell an apology and was the only newspaper that didn’t retract its story – reported by Ron Martz and Kathy Scruggs – accusing him of terrorism.

In 2011, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the defendant in Jewell’s lawsuit against the AJC “because the articles in their entirety were substantially true at the time they were published—even though the investigators’ suspicions were ultimately deemed unfounded—they cannot form the basis of a defamation action.”

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