The Atlanta Journal Constitution thinks Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film Richard Jewell defames the newspaper over its depiction of its reporter, Kathy Scruggs. Scruggs, who died in 2001, is depicted in the film as sleeping with an FBI agent to get information. Richard Jewell will be released Dec. 13.
“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. That is entirely false and malicious, and it is extremely defamatory and damaging,” the paper’s lawyer Marty Singer wrote, according to the Guardian.
Deadline published a copy of the letter, which said in part, “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 also calls for a public statement and disclaimer on the film that “some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayals of events and characters.”
Warner Bros. sent iMediaEthics the following statement in response:
“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.”
The movie focuses on the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta. In 1997, CNN and NBC News settled a lawsuit filed by Jewell, according to a CNN news story from the time. Jewell’s libel lawsuit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for its stories linking him to the bombing was dismissed in 2011 as iMediaEthics reported.
The filmmakers do offer this disclaimer: “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.”
Last month, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article defending Scruggs. “Scruggs’s friends and coworkers remember her salty language, short skirts and occasional antics. Still, they say, it’s wrong to suggest she relied on illicit assignations to do her job,” the paper wrote. The article also cited Scruggs’ “reporting partner on much of the bombing coverage” as saying he wasn’t contacted by the movie production, even though he was portrayed in it.
iMediaEthics has written to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Singer.