Olivia Wilde and ‘Richard Jewell’ Screenwriter Respond to the Film’s Controversial Portrayal of Kathy Scruggs

     December 13, 2019


Clint Eastwood’s rant against the horrors of fake news Richard Jewell is getting generally positive reviews, but certain factual elements of the film have come under fire. In particular, the film’s portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, a reporter for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that was among the first to break the story that the FBI were investigating the titular security guard as a suspect in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing. The movie depicts Scruggs as trading sex for the inside tip that sparked the story. Scruggs passed away in 2001, but her surviving family as well as he Atlanta-Journal Constitution have come to her defense, insisting the fim’s portrayal of events to be a total fabrication. The AJC wrote an open letter to Richard Jewell distributor Warner Bros. demanding a disclaimer be added to the fim and threatening legal action, correctly pointing out that Scruggs’ story was fact-checked with the FBI before publication and was 100% accurate.


Image via Claire Folger/Warner Bros.

Olivia Wilde, who portrays Scruggs in the film, initially responded to the controversy by calling it a “sexist double standard,” saying in an interview with Deadline “… I don’t hear anyone complaining about Jon Hamm’s character as being inferred that he also had a relationship with a reporter. It feels unfair that Kathy has been minimized in this way.” Presumably after several people pointed out that Hamm’s character is a fictional composite of multiple law enforcement agents who worked on the case whereas Wilde’s character is a real person, she’s now backtracking on her previous remarks.

In a Twitter thread, Wilde said, “Contrary to a swath of recent headlines, I do not believe that Kathy ‘traded sex for tips’. Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had… 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.”

It is important to note that the “false information” given to Scruggs was a verified report that the FBI was investigating Jewell as a suspect, which was absolutely true. Wilde ultimately attempts to distance herself from the controversy, saying “I cannot speak for the creative decisions made by the filmmakers, as I did not have a say in how the film was ultimately crafted, but it’s important to me that I share my personal take on the matter.”

Meanwhile, Richard Jewell screenwriter Billy Ray has zero problem blaming the entire ordeal squarely on Scruggs and the AJC. “This movie is about a hero whose life was completely destroyed by myths created by the FBI and the media, specifically the AJC,” he told Deadline. “The AJC hung Richard Jewell, in public. They editorialized wildly and printed assumptions as facts…. Now a movie comes along 23 years later, a perfect chance for the AJC to atone for what they did to Richard and to admit to their misdeeds. And what do they decide to do? They launch a distraction campaign. They deflect and distort. They focus solely on one single minute in a movie that’s 129 minutes long, opting to challenge one assertion in the movie rather than accepting their own role in destroying the life of a good man. The movie isn’t about Kathy Scruggs; it’s about the heroism and hounding of Richard Jewell, and what rushed reporting can do to an innocent man. And by the way, I will stand by every word and assertion in the script.”

Yep, that’s 100% the response I expected from the man who wrote Color of Night. Richard Jewell opens in theaters today.

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