Atlanta’s leading newspaper has hired a powerful media lawyer, known for scaring off journalists for celebrity clients, to take on Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Richard Jewell, in an argument about the on-screen portrayal of one its legendary reporters.
The paper says the depiction in the movie of now-deceased reporter Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, is “offensive” and “highly defamatory”. It wants Hollywood executives to add a disclaimer in the film about the part.
Richard Jewell depicts Scruggs as sleeping with an FBI agent to draw out information from a source in the aftermath of the 1996 Olympic Bombing in Atlanta. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution has repeatedly, in recent weeks, denounced the movie’s treatment of the veteran reporter, who broke the news that the FBI was focusing on Jewell in the investigation.
“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,” says the letter from lawyer Marty Singer on behalf of the paper, to Eastwood, screenwriter Billy Ray and Warner Brothers executives. The letter was obtained by Deadline.
Singer, who has defended and represented celebrities for decades, including the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Charlie Sheen and Jeremy Piven, has threatened Eastwood and other Hollywood executives with a defamation lawsuit on behalf of the AJC.
It’s not how the AJC operates, said Kevin Riley, the paper’s top editor, to the Daily Beast after Warner Brothers dismissed the paper’s claims as “baseless”.
“We find it extremely troubling in these times when the media is under almost constant attack, for a film that claims to be portraying a real situation to suggest that this is how journalists operate,” Riley said to the Daily Beast.
A number of journalists have called the portrayal of Scruggs “boring” and “wrong”, taking to social media to defend female journalists who are repeatedly portrayed by Hollywood in this sexist trope.
Wilde has said she did her research on Scruggs but the AJC followed up with close friends, family and former colleagues who say they never heard from Wilde, despite offering their assistance to writers.