It isn’t often that a media offering depicts a poignant example of how and why things are the way they truly are in real life, but I recently happened upon one that I’d like to discuss here. “Manhunt: Deadly Games” is a limited series that premiered on Netflix this year and which depicts a fictionalized account of the FBI’s hunt for Eric Rudolph, the perpetrator of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and other bombings across the southern U.S. during the same time period. “Deadly Games” was produced by the same team that delivered “Manhunt: Unabomber” for The Discovery Channel in 2017.
As many will be aware, Netflix is one of those streaming networks that discriminating viewers consider with a jaded eye. Earlier this year, the network was slammed over its film “Cuties,” which shamelessly sexualized prepubescent girls. Some readers will be acquainted with the network’s deal with Barack and Michelle Obama. Inked in 2018, the arrangement calls for the Obamas to produce “a diverse mix of content.” It’s anyone’s guess as to precisely how this will pan out, but it’s a cinch that anything that pair puts forth will be thoroughly subversive cultural rot.
So, it is nearly bracing if unexpected when Netflix airs something that hits the nail so squarely on the head.
Whether or not it was intended, “Manhunt: Deadly Games” is as much about how the FBI and the establishment press conspired to frame security guard Richard Jewell for the Olympic Park bombing, despite experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) having known that Jewell could not have carried out the bombing from early in the crime scene analysis.
Picking up on stories by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s terminally ambitious Kathy Scruggs, the FBI and the national press advanced the story that Jewell was a cop-wannabe loser who lived with his mom and actually planted the explosive device so that he could be a “hero.” Jewell’s life was subsequently destroyed, as one might imagine: The Olympic Park bombing killed two and injured well over 100 innocent people who’d just come to see the Olympics.
Jewell was never officially cleared by the FBI, even when Eric Rudolph, a psychopath with a penchant for mayhem, was formally charged with the Olympic Park and other bombings; it is primarily through two interviews with CBS’ “60 Minutes” program that the former security guard got a fair airing of his story. In truth, he had discovered the explosive device while working security at the venue and alerted police to its presence. In the attempts to evacuate the area prior to the bomb detonating, hundreds of lives were indeed saved.
While a great deal of the program focuses on the FBI’s fumbling attempts to apprehend Eric Rudolph (whom they flatly refused to consider as a suspect for the Olympic Park bombing until very late in the game), the duplicity of the FBI and the press figure very prominently.
We can certainly understand the zeal of Atlanta reporter Kathy Scruggs and the pressure that was on the FBI to name a suspect. It was also quite proper for the FBI to consider the “hero bomber” angle. However, we can also see how Scruggs played fast and loose with her reporting and how the FBI dismissed exculpatory evidence, tried to entrap Jewell during interviews and let their egos drive the bus. Finally, we can readily see the lack of ethics that went into the summary sacrifice of Jewell as a USDA Grade A scumbag by the press.
Now, we could say that unflattering representations in “Deadly Games” are colored by how certain characters were depicted, but considering how positively Hollywood tends to depict the press and the pre-Trump federal government, the dim view this program sheds on both says a lot. “Deadly Games” indicates something astute news viewers have suspected for years – that the FBI’s law enforcement chops aren’t nearly what they used to be, and that the organization has devolved into an elitist bureaucracy whose upper-echelon members are far more about politics than they are law enforcement.
As Special Agent Jack Brennan and his team lead the hunt for serial bomber Eric Rudolph in the hills of North Carolina, we’re shown how Rudolph played both local militias and the FBI as fools. “Deadly Games” even makes the militias appear more forthright, savvy and well-coordinated than the FBI, something I’m sure the producers were not trying to do.
One of the really great representations in this production was that of Louis Freeh, the FBI director under Bill Clinton. Freeh is portrayed by Desmond Harrington, who brilliantly captures the Clintonista’s narcissistic, craven posturing and deep state affinities. Between the machinations of this utter weasel, Brennan’s shady maneuvering and the malicious, cavalier deportment of the national press, it is very easy to see how we wound up where we are today in the real world. More importantly, it is easy to see how we wound up with an FBI compromised to the degree that it would collude with rouge elements in Congress to attempt to oust a duly-elected president.
As often as life tends to imitate the sick art of Hollywood these days, it is refreshing to see art imitate life for a change, and with reasonable accuracy.
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