Atlanta Newspaper Demands ‘Richard Jewell’ Add Disclaimer Over “Reckless” Portrayal

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, now represented by Hollywood attorney Martin Singer, says the Clint Eastwood film “falsely portrays” the paper and its personnel as “extraordinarily reckless.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is asking that a disclaimer be added to Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell, out Dec. 13., stating that the events portrayed in the film are not wholly accurate and that the filmmakers took dramatic license when constructing the narrative.

The main concern is with the portrayal of journalist Kathy Scruggs, who broke the news that Jewell (played by BlackKklansman actor Paul Walter Hauser) was a suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing on July 27, 1996. The film implies that the journalist traded sexual favors for information about the FBI investigation.

“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,” begins the letter addressed to Eastwood, screenwriter Bill Ray, journalist Marie Brenner (who wrote the Vanity Fair feature on which the film is based) and Warner Bros.

“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 Atlanta Journal-Constitution is being represented by Hollywood attorney Martin Singer, whose clients have included Brett Ratner and Jeff Bezos. The legal letter was sent on behalf of the paper and its owner, Cox Enterprises.

In its own statement, Warner Bros. said, “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. ‘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.”

A disclaimer runs at the end of the film which states, “The film is based on actual historical events. Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.”

In the film, Scruggs is seen offering to sleep with FBI agent Tom Shaw (played by Jon Hamm) in exchange for information about the investigation. To this, Shaw replies, “Kathy, you couldn’t fuck it out of them. What makes you think you could fuck it out of me?” Shaw does provide Jewell’s name to Scruggs, then asks if the two should get a hotel room or go back to her car. While they are never actually seen doing so, it is implied that they sleep together.

There is no evidence that this transaction ever happened.

Ahead of the film’s AFI Fest premiere Kevin Riley, the current editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, spoke to THR, saying, “At a time when journalism itself is under attack from a lot of corners, for a movie to fall into this kind of trope and reinforce a false stereotype — it is wrong. It is especially alarming to see it happening in Hollywood.”

For her part, Wilde defended the film’s portrayal of events, telling THR on the red carpet of the Gotham Awards, “I have an immense amount of respect for Kathy Scruggs,” she said, later adding: “I think people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character.”

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