Warner Bros. isn’t taking the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s threat of a defamation lawsuit lying down.
Clint Eastwood’s newest film, “Richard Jewell,” tells the historically based story of a security guard who saved people’s lives upon discovering a pipe bomb in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics but went from hero to public villain after a reckless media reported that he had become the FBI’s top suspect. One of the media outlets which helped spread the false claim that Jewell was responsible for the bombing was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The paper is now threatening to sue Warner Bros. and the filmmakers for what it claims is a “false and malicious” depiction of since-deceased journalist Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), who was first to report that Jewell was the primary suspect. The inclusion of a scene suggesting that Scruggs offers sex to an FBI agent for information, says AJC and its high-powered Hollywood attorney Martin Singer, is defamatory.
In a letter sent Monday to Warner Bros., Eastwood, screenwriter Billy Ray, and reporter Marie Brenner, who wrote a story for Vanity Fair on which the film is partly based, AJC demands that the studio issue a public statement and a “prominent disclaimer” before the film acknowledging it took creative license in its depictions of the historically based events.
“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,” reads the letter, sent by Singer’s LA-based law firm Lavely & Singer. “We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.”
“The AJC’s reporter is reduced to a sex-trading object in the film,” the letter declares. “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.”
The letter also accuses the filmmakers of failing to give the paper enough credit for its role in exonerating Jewell. Failure to meet the paper’s demands, the letter makes clear, may have serious legal ramifications.
Though Singer is known for his “pit bull tactics,” as Variety describes them, Warner Bros. was clearly not intimidated by his law firm’s threats.
In a response reported by Deadline Monday, the studio vowed to “vigorously defend” against the paper’s “baseless” claims and noted 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.”
“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material,” the studio said in the statement. “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 underscored.
The studio also noted that the film already includes a disclaimer at the end of the film, which reads: “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.”