In a letter sent Monday by a high-powered law firm to Warner Bros. and Clint Eastwood, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution accused the studio and filmmakers behind the iconic director’s historically based film “Richard Jewell” of “false and malicious” portrayals of the paper and its reporters, particularly a female journalist whose reporting helped turn a real-life hero into a public villain. In an interview with The Associated Press, Eastwood was asked to address the controversy and responded by pointing to the paper’s apparent motivation for launching the attack on him and the studio.
“Richard Jewell,” which is generating Oscars buzz, tells the historically based story of a security guard who discovered a pipe bomb in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics and worked to get others clear of the area. Though his heroic actions saved lives, he went from hero to villain after the media, including AJC’s late-Kathy Scruggs, reported that he had become the FBI’s top suspect.
The film’s portrayal of Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde) and the paper in general, AJC alleges, amounts to defamation. The paper points to one scene as particularly egregious: the suggestion that Scruggs offers sex to an FBI agent for information on Jewell. “The AJC’s reporter is reduced to a sex-trading object in the film,” reads the letter, sent by Martin Singer’s LA-based law firm Lavely & Singer. “Such a portrayal makes it appear that the AJC sexually exploited its staff and/or that it facilitated or condoned offering sexual gratification to sources in exchange for stories.”
“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 paper insists. “We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.”
Warner Bros. responded Monday by vowing to “vigorously defend” against the paper’s “baseless” claims and pointing out 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.”
In an interview along with the film’s star, Paul Walter Hauser, published Thursday, The Associated Press asked Eastwood for comments on the paper’s accusations, and the director offered a classically Eastwood nonchalant response.
“The editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has criticized the film,” AP said in a question directed to Eastwood. “He’s questioning the accuracy, saying it’s not true that Kathy Scruggs traded sex with an ex-FBI agent in exchange for a tip. And they’re also challenging the notion that the paper ran a story with questionable sourcing. Do you have a response to the criticism?”
“I think the Atlanta Journal probably would be the one group that would be sort of complexed about that whole situation because they are the ones who printed the first thing of there being a crime caused by Richard Jewell,” said Eastwood. “And so they’re probably looking for ways to rationalize their activity. I don’t know for sure. I haven’t — never discussed it with anyone from there …”
Hauser also responded in defense of the film. “But also the biopics — Hollywood biopics are historically under scrutiny, whether it’s the Dupont family in ‘Foxcatcher,’ whether it’s the Catholic Church in ‘Spotlight,'” said the actor. “This is a very obvious thing that’s happening with the AJC and we understand their plight. But we’re telling our story. And I think we did a really good job.”
“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material,” Warner Bros. said in the statement reported by Deadline Monday. “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,” the studio asserted.