Clint Eastwood’s historical drama “Richard Jewell” made its world premiere this week at AFI Fest and is already generating controversy for its depiction of reporter Kathy Scruggs, played in the film by actress and “Booksmart” director Olivia Wilde. The film, written by Billy Ray, finds Scruggs offering to sleep with an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) in exchange for information about the bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The FBI agent responds, “Kathy, you couldn’t fuck it out of them. What makes you think you could fuck it out of me?” The line suggests Scruggs had a history of offering sex for scoops.
In real life, and as depicted in Eastwood’s movie, Scruggs was a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution whose story on the Atlanta bombing named Richard Jewell as a suspect law enforcement was pursuing. The report turned Jewell’s life into a media circus. Jewell is played by “I, Tonya” breakout Paul Walter Hauser in the film.
Kevin Riley, the editor in chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has slammed “Richard Jewell” for its portrayal of Scruggs. Riley said in a statement to IndieWire “there is no evidence that this ever happened” and called the film’s suggestion that Scruggs traded sex for news info “offensive and deeply troubling in the #MeToo era.”
“Kathy Scruggs was the AJC reporter who got the initial information that law enforcement was pursuing Jewell,” Riley said. “Scruggs was known as an aggressive reporter and committed journalist who sought always to beat her competition. She has been described by one of her contemporaries as ‘irreverent and savvy.’ She is deceased.”
“As always, stories and people are complicated,” Riley continued. “Kathy Scruggs died in 2001 of an overdose of prescription drugs she was taking for chronic back pain. She was 42. Perpetuating false tropes about female reporters and journalism itself shouldn’t go unchallenged in a time when our profession finds itself under almost constant attack.”
In addition to Wilde, Hamm, and Hauser, “Richard Jewell” co-stars Kathy Bates and Sam Rockwell. The movie received mixed-to-positive reviews from film critics, with some Oscar pundits suggesting the performances from Hauser, Rockwell, and Bates could make noise in the awards races. Warner Bros. is opening “Richard Jewell” in theaters December 13. IndieWire has reached out to the studio for comment.