By Joseph Wulfsohn
Published December 10, 2019
A local newspaper at the center of the new Clint Eastwood film "Richard Jewell" is sparking a national debate over the movie's portrayal of one of its journalists.
The film, set for release Friday, was inspired by the real-life events surrounding Richard Jewell, a security guard who became a hero when finding a bomb at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park but soon faced false accusations that he planted the device himself.
The film depicted the search for the identity of the culprit behind the bombing, including by real-life Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reporter Kathy Scruggs. However, the paper has sharply criticized the film for its portrayal of Scruggs. The movie suggested she slept with an FBI agent in order to get a scoop.
On Monday, AJC's legal team sent a six-page letter to Warner Bros. and Eastwood threatening a defamation lawsuit for its depiction of Scruggs, who died in 2001, and demanding the filmmakers acknowledge the "dramatization."
"We hereby demand that you immediately issue a statement publicly acknowledging that some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters," the letter stated. "We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect."
Warner Bros. slammed AJC's "baseless" claims, accusing the paper of "trying to malign our filmmakers and cast."
"The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material. There is no disputing that Richard Jewell was an innocent man whose reputation and life were shredded by a miscarriage of justice. It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast," Warner Bros. told Fox News. "'Richard Jewell' focuses on the real victim, seeks to tell his story, confirm his innocence and restore his name. The AJC's claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them."
The controversy had people backing the paper as well as condemning the news outlet.
"Shocked that this sexist crap is coming from Clint Eastwood. Shocked!" Washington Post writer Laura Bassett reacted.
Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern even called for a boycott, urging others on Twitter, "Please do not pay to see movies that feature fictional female journalists who sleep with sources for a story. It's an egregiously sexist, demeaning, insulting trope and at this stage I don't see an appropriate response other than a flat-out boycott."
On "The View," liberal co-host Joy Behar offered a passionate defense of Scruggs, telling the filmmakers shouldn't "turn on the woman even after she's gone," adding how she's "not here to defend herself."
"Did you ever see the movie, 'All The President's Men?' That's almost like a historical document at this point because you watch that movie and you see exactly what happened and how they got Nixon," Behar elaborated. "This is also almost a historical document in a way of that situation and it's outrageous when you think about it. And Clint Eastwood should be ashamed of himself."
Sunny Hostin agreed, insisting that Scruggs, who was played by Olivia Wilde, was "smeared" in the film.
Others mocked AJC for taking such a stand against "Richard Jewell."
"Oh you mean the only news outlet that never apologized to Richard Jewell and just waited him out in court until he died? That's the one that should be making demands right now," Washington Free Beacon's F. Bill McMorris reacted.
"The press spending 10 days acting as if a journalist is the real victim in RICHARD JEWELL is like a free $30 million ad campaign for Warner Bros," writer Sonny Bunch tweeted.