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Clint Eastwood’s Latest Film Stumbles After Newspaper Demands Disclaimer

Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “Richard Jewell,” earned only half of the projected box office sales during its opening weekend after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution demanded a disclaimer regarding the way one of the newspaper’s former reporters is portrayed in the film.

Eastwood’s movie tells the story of security guard Richard Jewell, who was falsely accused of being involved with the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta.

The Warner Bros. film was projected to reach $9 million to $10 million in box office sales in its opening weekend, according to The Wrap.

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It made about half of that, $4.7 million.

The only Eastwood movie that has done worse was his 1980 film “Bronco Billy,” which came in at $3.7 million, according to Variety. Eastwood’s highest-grossing opening weekend was for the 2014 film “American Sniper,” which made $89 million.

Warner Bros. will likely lose a significant amount on “Richard Jewell” since it cost $45 million to produce.

On the Monday prior to the film’s opening weekend, The Journal-Constitution demanded that the filmmakers add a disclaimer saying they used “artistic license” in their portrayal of the newspaper and its staff. Of particular concern is the film’s implication that reporter Kathy Scruggs had sex with an FBI agent to find out that Jewell was under investigation.

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Scruggs died in 2001 at the age of 42 from a drug overdose.

The newspaper sent a letter to Warner Bros., screen writer Billy Ray and Eastwood with a list of demands.

“We hereby demand that you immediately issue a statement publicly acknowledging that some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters,” the newspaper said. “We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.”

Kevin G. Riley, editor of The Journal-Constitution, told Variety that he felt that the movie participates in harmful stereotypes about female reporters by portraying them exchanging sex for information.

“I think this letter makes it clear how seriously we take the misrepresentation of our reporters’ actions and of the actions of the newspaper during that time,” he said. “We have been clear about how disturbed we are in the film’s use of a Hollywood trope about reporters … and how it misrepresents how seriously journalists concern themselves with reporting accurately and ethically.”

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The Journal-Constitution published an article featuring interviews with people who knew Scruggs.

According to reporter Ron Martz, who co-bylined Scruggs’ story about Jewell being investigated by the FBI, 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 Journal-Constitution. “It’s obvious to me they did not go to any great lengths to find out what the real characters were like.”

“She was one of the better reporters I ever worked with. She was really tough and hard-nosed,” he said. “When she went after a story she did what was necessary to get the story, within legal and ethical bounds.”

Olivia Wilde, who played Scruggs in the film, came under fire from some in the media.

The Daily Beast’s Cassie Da Costa called Wilde’s portrayal of the reporter “offensive” and said, “Even if it were to somehow come out that Scruggs did in fact sleep with an agent (a prospect I find highly unlikely, but we shall see), it wouldn’t change the wrongheadedness of how the character is written and portrayed.”

The actress posted a series of tweets addressing the portrayal.

“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,” she said in one of her tweets.

“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. That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did,” Wilde said in another tweet.

“I was asked to play the supporting role of Kathy Scruggs, who was, by all accounts, bold, smart, and fearlessly undeterred by the challenge of being a female reporter in the south in the 1990s. I cannot even contemplate the amount of sexism she may have faced in the way of duty.”

Ray defended the way Scruggs was depicted in the film.

“This movie is about a hero whose life was completely destroyed by myths created by the FBI and the media, specifically the AJC,” the screenwriter said in an interview with Deadline. “The AJC hung Richard Jewell, in public.”

“They editorialized wildly and printed assumptions as facts,” he said. “They compared him to noted mass murderer Wayne Williams. And this was after he had saved hundreds of lives. 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.”

Ray said the newspaper’s “current motivation is to protect itself from the harsh light that this is movie is shedding on their behavior. I think the paper is trying to sully our movie in an effort to spare itself a justified embarrassment. That’s journalistic cowardice.”

“What is so appalling,” he said, “is that this is corporate ass-covering disguised as an effort to protect Kathy Scruggs.”

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