"'CNN is Eric's best friend. If it hadn't been for the media, Eric Rudolph would have been caught in the first two days. The media's the worst thing that ever happened to this case. The worst thing.'"
On a June day at the River’s End restaurant, part of the large sporting complex that is the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in western North Carolina, a patron waiting to be seated wore a T-shirt featuring a now familiar joke. An FBI agent sits on a tree stump in the forest, surrounded by books, while a red-nosed reindeer says to him, “I hear you’re looking for Rudolph.” Despite claims in the area that the search for alleged serial bomber Eric Rudolph is now all but forgotten, such remnants as the T-shirt signify the ongoing search, even as the Southeast Bomb Task Force scaled back in June 2000 from over two hundred agents to a mere dozen. Tensions also linger in the region between natives and strangers, citizenry and government, local and federal law enforcement. Is the FBI inside or outside the reindeer joke? The answer to that question depends entirely upon who is being asked.