Clint Eastwood’s movie Richard Jewell dramatizes the story of the security guard suspected of planning the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, and the actions of the FBI and the local news in the fallout immediately after the terrorist attack. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the city’s major daily newspaper, isn’t happy with how the paper or its reporter Kathy Scruggs are portrayed in the film: it is implied that Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, sleeps with an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) for information. On Monday, lawyers representing the paper demanded that Warner Bros. add a disclaimer to the movie stating that artistic license was taken in its depiction of Scrugg’s and the paper’s reporting. “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. We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect,” the letter, addressed to Clint Eastwood, Warner Bros., and the producers reads. “While the film may tell truths about Mr. Jewell, the ‘facts’ it portrays about the AJC and its journalists are untruthful, defamatory, and damaging.”
The paper and its owners have retained the infamous attorney Martin Singer, who has previously represented Eddie Murphy, Charlie Sheen, and many more. “The Richard Jewell film falsely portrays the AJC and its personnel as extraordinarily reckless, using unprofessional and highly inappropriate reporting methods, and engaging in constitutional malice by recklessly disregarding information inconsistent with its planned reporting,” the letter continues. “This, too, is the height of irony, since all those involved in the film’s creation and dissemination and its false portrayal of the AJC are the ones who have acted recklessly and are engaging in constitutional malice.” Read the full request from the statement below:
The AJC’s writers were and are professionals who follow accepted journalistic standards. They have been the recipients of multiple Pulitzer Prizes during the paper’s 150-plus year history. It would be a travesty if this film’s plot was contrived to profit by manipulating the facts to defamatory affect, causing devastating harm to the reputations of the AJC and its hard working journalists.
Clint Eastwood has been quoted saying about the film that, to get it made “I sold a lot of souls to the devil.” He said “I wanted this picture in the worst way.” And he proceeded to make this picture in the worst waya way that amounts to a malicious defamatory smear of the AJC and its journalists.
The beginning of the film trailer proclaims that it is “BASED ON THE TRUE STORY,” and the trailer ends by telling consumers: “RICHARD JEWELL” “THE WORLD WILL KNOW HIS NAME AND THE TRUTH.”!4 While the film may tell truths about Mr. Jewell, the “facts” it portrays about the AJC and its journalists are untruthful, defamatory, and damaging.
Since the film will be released internationally, my clients do not need to satisfy constitutional malice criteria for a successful defamation lawsuit in various jurisdictions including, but not limited to, the U.K., France, and Australia. My clients will simply need to establish that statements in the film are false and that it is defamatory by harming my client’s reputation, one of the finest newspapers in the world. Accordingly, 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 We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.
Wilde has defended the movie’s portrayal of Scruggs. “I think it’s a shame that she has been reduced to one inferred moment in the film,” Wilde told Variety at the 2019 Gotham Awards red carpet. “It’s a basic misunderstanding of feminism as pious, sexlessness. It happens a lot to women; we’re expected to be one-dimensional if we are to be considered feminists. There’s a complexity to Kathy, as there is to all of us, and I really admired her.” Scruggs died in 2001.
Update Monday evening: In response, Warner Bros. issued their own statement accusing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of attempting to steer the conversation around the film away from their own failings in covering the real-life Richard Jewell story. However, the studio does not specifically address the paper’s claims about Scruggs.
“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material,” the studio said in a statement, according to Variety. “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. 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.”