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While Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, Richard Jewell, has received a lot of positive reception among critics, with just days to go until its release, it’s now found itself in controversial waters due to a dispute with a newspaper based in Atlanta, Georgia. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution is taking issue with how one of the movie’s characters, a journalist who worked at that paper, is depicted.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Richard Jewell, it’s a biographical drama chronicling the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics, and how the eponymous security guard, played by Paul Walter Hauser, found the bomb and altered the authorities so that the area could be evacuated, but was later suspected of having planted the bomb himself. In Richard Jewell, Olivia Wilde plays Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, who is shown in one scene to be offering sex to a federal officer in exchange for information.
Dissatisfied with this portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, who co-wrote the article that revealed Richard Jewell was a suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and passed away in 2001, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution and its parent corporation, Cox Enterprises, have sent a letter to Warner Bros, Clint Eastwood, screenwriter Billy Ray and others through the Los Angeles-based law firm Lavely & Singer.
The organizations demand that the studio publicly acknowledge that some of the events shown in Richard Jewell were “imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters,” as well as requested that a prominent disclaimer be added “to that effect.” The letter also stated:
The AJC’s reporter is reduced to a sex-trading object in the film. 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.
Warner Bros has since put out its own statement on the Richard Jewell matter (via Variety), saying that the movie is “based on a wide range of highly credible source material.” However, the statement didn’t directly address Richard Jewell’s portrayal of the late Kathy Scruggs, instead calling out how the Atlanta-Journal Constitution played a role in Jewell being falsely accused. (Jewell, who passed away in 2007, was cleared after around three months of investigation, and terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph was later convicted and is now serving multiple life sentences.) In the studio’s words:
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.
Warner Bros also noted how there’s already a disclaimer attached to the end of Richard Jewell that notes that the movie is based on actual historical events and that “dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.”
It’s unclear what the next step forward is in this feud, although according to the Variety report, it’s possible legal action will be taken. Atlanta-Journal Constitution editor Kevin Riley told the outlet that the paper’s staff was “concerned about how the film portrays Kathy at time when journalism itself is under attack,” and said that Richard Jewell feels “irresponsible.” The AJC’s letter also objected to how the movie presented the paper’s reporting practices, saying that it “acted responsibly and in accordance with appropriate journalistic standards.”