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Warner Bros. Hits Back at Atlanta Paper Over ‘Richard Jewell’ Legal Threat

Warner Bros. is standing behind “Richard Jewell,” the Clint Eastwood drama that is the source of controversy over its portrayal of a female journalist trading sex for scoops. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent a legal threat to the filmmakers on Monday asking them to include a disclaimer noting that the film took dramatic license.

In a fiery statement, the studio accused the paper of trying to draw attention away from its own questionable reporting on law enforcement officials’ decision to treat Jewell as a suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Jewell, a security guard who evacuated the area, was ultimately exonerated, but not before his reputation was damaged in the ensuing media circus.

“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material,” Warner Bros.’ statement reads. “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 statement, however, does not directly address the paper’s objections to Eastwood’s depiction of late journalist Kathy Scruggs, who the film implies slept with an FBI agent involved with the case. Friends and colleagues of Scruggs, who died in 2001 at the age of 42, have disputed the characterization of the reporter. Scruggs co-bylined the original article that revealed Jewell was under suspicion.

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Warner Bros. did note that the film already contains a disclaimer at the end that reads, “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 hired Martin Singer to represent it and hinted at possible legal action. In a letter to the studio and the filmmakers, it says the movie is playing fast and loose with the facts and ignores the paper’s role in reporting on holes in the case against Jewell. It also defends its reporting on the investigation into Jewell, denying it rushed to get the story out and arguing it delayed publication until it could get additional corroboration. In an interview with Variety, Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Kevin Riley said his staff was particularly upset about the way Scruggs has been portrayed.

“They’re concerned about how the film portrays Kathy at time when journalism itself is under attack,” he said. “This film feels irresponsible.”

Jewell died in 2007 at the age of 44. It was later determined that the bombing, which killed two people and injured more than 100 others, was the work of American terrorist Eric Rudolph.

“Richard Jewell” opens on Dec. 13.

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