Ahead Of 'Richard Jewell' Film Release, The AJC Demands Public Disclaimer

Dec 9, 2019

Ahead of the release of the film Richard Jewell, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has demanded a public statement from Warner Bros. acknowledging that some events in the film “were imagined for dramatic purposes.”

The movie centers on the titular character who discovered a bomb during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. First heralded for saving lives, Jewell was quickly deemed a suspect by the media before being cleared of any wrongdoing.

In sharp criticism of the film, the letter from the law firm Lavely and Singer, which is representing the AJC, said the beginning of the film trailer claims the movie is “based on the true story” and “the world will know his name and the truth.”

But it argues while it may be Jewell’s truth, it is not that of the AJC.

While the film isn’t scheduled to be released until Friday, the letter said former AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs is portrayed as “unethical, unprofessional and reckless.”

The letter said certain scenes in the movie show Scruggs as trading sexual favors for story tips from the FBI.

Olivia Wilde, who plays Scruggs, told the Hollywood Reporter she feels a responsibility to defend Scruggs’ legacy, which she thinks has been “unfairly boiled down” to one moment in the film.

“I think that Kathy Scruggs is an incredibly dynamic, nuanced, dogged, intrepid reporter,” Wilde said to the Hollywood Reporter. “By no means was I intending to suggest that as a female reporter she needed to use her sexuality.”

The letter addressed to Clint Eastwood, who directed the film, Marie Brenner, Billy Ray and Warner Bros. also shed light on fears that the movie makes it seem like the AJC sexually exploited its reporters. It calls that suggestion “malicious, extremely defamatory and damaging.”

It cites the "Me Too" environment and "cancel culture" as fears the paper could be “blindly blackballed.” It also threatens legal action saying all those involved in spreading “defamatory falsehoods are exposed to significant liability in the United States.”

On Second Thought will air "Mistaken: The Real Story of Richard Jewell" on Friday, Dec. 13. The program will also be available for streaming or download.

Since the film is scheduled for international release, other jurisdictions for a lawsuit could include the United Kingdom, France and Australia.

Warner Bros. said the film has a disclaimer at the end that says the film is based on historical events and that dialogue, certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.

“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material," Warner Bros. said in a statement.

"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.”

Scruggs died at the age of 43 in 2001. Jewell died six years later at the age of 44. 

On Friday, the day the film is expected to hit theaters, GPB’s On Second Thought will have a special show on Jewell’s story.

Host Virigina Prescott will talk with Kent Alexander, who cleared Jewell of any suspicion after working with the FBI, and Kevin Salwen, who was with the Wall Street Journal at the time.

Prescott's show will include clips from former AJC editor Bert Roughton and from an interview with Tom Johnson, who was CNN’s president of news at the time.