The attorney for Richard Jewell, who came under suspicion in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing before he was exonerated, criticized the movie "Richard Jewell" on Thursday night, calling its depiction of a reporter at the center of the movie "false and damning."
The movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, strongly suggests that the reporter, Kathy Scruggs of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, slept with an FBI agent to get information on the investigation.
Many journalists have strongly criticized the portrayal as perpetuating a pernicious and false stereotype that some female journalists trade sex for information, which U.S. news organizations prohibit as unethical.
Scruggs died in 2001 at age 42. Jewell died in 2007 at age 44. The Journal-Constitution has maintained that there is no evidence that Scruggs slept with anyone involved in the investigation and has demanded that Warner Bros. and the filmmakers release a statement acknowledging that they took dramatic license in their portrayal of Scruggs.
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In a thread on Twitter on Thursday night, Lin Wood, the prominent defamation lawyer who represented Jewell in lawsuits against The Journal-Constitution and other media organizations, joined the movie's critics.
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Referring to the newspaper by its commonly used nickname, Wood wrote: "I handled Richard Jewell's case against AJC for 16 years. By the time the case ended, Richard & Ms. Scruggs had both passed away. There was NO evidence to support a storyline that Ms. Scruggs traded sex for tips about Richard. We never made such a false & damning claim."
Wood went on to write that evidence showed Scruggs was dating an Atlanta police officer at the time of the investigation and that the newspaper independently confirmed with the FBI that Jewell was a leading suspect before publication.
"That story might not win anyone an Oscar, but it is the truth under the evidence," Wood wrote.
In 2011, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled for the newspaper, which had refused to negotiate a settlement of Jewell's lawsuit. Other news organizations, including NBC News, settled similar cases, generally for undisclosed sums and with the assertion that they stood by their reporting.
In addition to Eastwood and the movie's production team, Olivia Wilde, the actor who played Scruggs in the movie, has also come under criticism. She responded earlier Thursday in a long Twitter thread, saying she wanted to share her perspective on the role and clarify previous comments in which she said she thought the controversy was a "basic misunderstanding of feminism as pious sexlessness."
"Contrary to a swath of recent headlines, I do not believe that Kathy 'traded sex for tips,'" Wilde tweeted. "Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had. That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did."
"The perspective of the fictional dramatization of the story, as I understood it, was that Kathy, and the FBI agent who leaked false information to her, were in a pre-existing romantic relationship, not a transactional exchange of sex for information," Wilde continued.
Wilde also said in her Twitter thread that Scruggs was at the center of the "brutal and unjust vilification" of Jewell and that the film centered on the tragedy of the accusations against him.
Eric Rudolph, an American domestic terrorist, was later found to have been responsible for setting off the bomb, which killed one person and injured 111 other people at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta in July 1996. Jewell, a security guard at the park, helped to evacuate the area after the bomb was discovered.
Scruggs' former friends and colleagues spoke about the journalist's legacy at The Journal-Constitution for an article in the newspaper titled "The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs." Scruggs' former reporting partner, Ron Martz, played by David Shae in the movie, said no one from the film contacted him.
"If they had actually contacted me, it might have ruined their idea of what they wanted the story to be," Martz told the newspaper. "It's obvious to me they did not go to any great lengths to find out what the real characters were like."
He went on to say that Scruggs was "one of the better reporters I ever worked with."