Atlanta Journal-Constitution Threatens Lawsuit Over Portrayal of Media Failings and Behavior in Clint Eastwood’s Upcoming “Richard Jewell” Bio Pic

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest and only daily newspaper serving metropolitan Atlanta, GA, has hired Hollywood attorney Martin D. Singer to threaten Clint Eastwood over the potential release of his upcoming film, Richard Jewell, due to the accurate portrayals of sloppy, hysteria-fueled journalism that fueled Jewell’s story.

One of the main focuses of Eastwood’s film is the highlighting of the ways Jewell was mistreated by authorities, who attempted to gain false confessions from Jewell, and the public, as seen in his condemnation as a result of his trial-by-media.

The Atlanta Journal-Consitution took issue with Eastwood’s portrayal of the media and their actions, and hired Singer, referred to by The New York Times as the “guard dog to the stars,” to issue letters to Eastwood and Warner Bros. demanding that a disclaimer be added to the film which states that the film “falsely portrays the AJC and its personnel as extraordinarily reckless,” or else the involved parties may face legal action:

“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.

“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. We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.

You therefore proceed to disregard this letter’s demands at your peril.”

Singer also sent copies of the letter to screenwriter Billy Ray and journalist Marie Brenner, who penned the original Vanity Fair article that the film is partly based on.

Though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has taken issue with various aspects of their portrayal in the film, in particular it appears that the paper has taken offense to the depiction of the late journalist Kathy Scruggs, who is played in the film by Olivia Wilde and is depicted as having traded sexual favors with an FBI agent for information related to Jewell. The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution denies that Scruggs ever engaged in such an exchange.

Kevin Riley, the current editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, claimed that this depiction of Scruggs was “wrong.”

“At a time when journalism itself is under attack from a lot of corners, for a movie to fall into this kind of trope and reinforce a false stereotype — it is wrong. It is especially alarming to see it happening in Hollywood.”

In response to Singer’s letter, Warner Bros. issued a statement noting that “the AJC’s claims are baseless” and that the company intends to “vigorously defend against them.”

“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.”

Eastwood’s upcoming bio pic tells the story of Richard Jewell, a former security guard who discovered a backpack full of pipe bombs at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA, alerted police, and helped to assist in evacuating the area.

Though Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for his role in uncovering the bombing plot, a headline run by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the FBI was treating Jewell as a potential suspect, running the damning headline “FBI SUSPECTS ‘HERO’ GUARD MAY HAVE PLANTED BOMB.”

Following this headline, numerous outlets including NBC, CNN, and the New York Post began to report that Jewell was more than likely the culprit, for reasons ranging from his “bizarre employment history” and “abberant” personality, with NBCs Tom Brokaw even stating on-air that the FBI “probably have enough to arrest him right now.”

After his exoneration in 1996, Jewell filed lawsuits against said media outlets for defamation and libel, settling with all parties but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which case a judge ruled that “because the articles in their entirety were substantially true at the time they were published—even though the investigators’ suspicions were ultimately deemed unfounded—they cannot form the basis of a defamation action.”

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