UPDATE: Warner Bros. has responded to the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s accusations, calling them “baseless.”
“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material,” a spokesperson for the company told Rolling Stone. “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 rep also noted that the following disclaimer appears at the end of the movie: “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.”
The Atlanta Journal Constitution has accused Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film, Richard Jewell, of falsely portraying the paper and its coverage of the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, Variety reports.
The film tells the story of Jewell (played by Paul Walter Hauser), the security guard who discovered the pipe bomb at Centennial Olympic Park and became a prime suspect in the case. As an earlier trailer for the film suggested, Richard Jewell is critical of how the FBI handled its investigation of Jewell, as well as how the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and its reporter Kathy Scruggs, covered the story.
In its letter, the AJC — represented by attorney Martin Singer — demanded that Eastwood, screenwriter Billy Ray, Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner and the film’s studio, Warner Bros., issue a statement “acknowledging that some events [in the film] were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters.” It also demanded a “prominent disclaimer” be added to the film.
Representatives for Eastwood and Warner Bros. did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment. Singer also did not immediately return a request for comment, although a spokesperson for the AJC said, “We are asking only that the truth be told and an apology given for the damage done to Kathy Scruggs’ and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s reputations.”
In its letter, the AJC took issue with Richard Jewell’s portrayal of Scruggs, who broke the news that Jewell was a suspect. The letter argues that the film implies that Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde) exchanged sexual favors with an FBI officer (played by Jon Hamm) for information about Jewell, an implication the paper vociferously denied.
The letter referred to Scruggs as “a seasoned reporter who worked proactively within appropriate journalistic bounds,” adding, “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.”
It also claims the film suggests that the AJC relied on questionable sourcing for its stories on Jewell and that it did not fact-check. To this point, the letter notes that Brenner — who wrote the 1997 Vanity Fair article on which the movie is based — repeatedly noted in her original story the various instances when Scruggs’ information was properly vetted. The letter also cites a 2011 decision in a defamation lawsuit Jewell later filed against the AJC, in which it was determined that the paper’s articles “in their entirety were substantially true at the time they were published.”
The letter also highlights how the AJC played a role in Jewell’s ultimate exoneration, noting that it was AJC reporters who uncovered the fact that Jewell couldn’t have made the 911 phone call the bomber made because he was several blocks away from the pay phone when the call was placed. The letter notes that the film attributes this discovery to Jewell’s lawyer, adding, “The film’s intentional falsification of the facts in this regard, so they fit its predetermined storyline to portray the AJC as unethical, untrustworthy and reckless, exemplifies the film’s malicious defamatory intent.”
The AJC also suggests that the Richard Jewell filmmakers “completely disregarded” the information the paper and its representatives provided after viewing an early version of the film. “It is evident that the meeting was a mere pretext,” the letter states, adding, “Such conduct evidences purposeful avoidance of the truth, supporting a finding of constitutional malice.”
While the AJC has not filed a lawsuit against the Richard Jewell filmmakers, the letter closes with the note that because the film will receive an international release, the paper will “not need to satisfy constitutional malice criteria for a successful defamation lawsuit in various jurisdictions… [It] will simply need to establish that statements in the film are false and that it is defamatory by harming [its] reputation.”