December 10, 2019

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The irony of ‘Richard Jewell’

Hollywood often takes dramatic license with movies based on true stories. Happens all the time.

But the new Clint Eastwood film, “Richard Jewell,” appears to have gone too far. The film is about the media frenzy around Jewell, the security guard wrongly accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Kathy Scruggs was the real-life reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who reported that Jewell was under investigation. In the movie, Scruggs, played by actress Olivia Wilde, sleeps with an FBI agent, played by actor Jon Hamm, to get the story.

There is no evidence that Scruggs slept with anyone to get the story. Furthermore, Scruggs can’t defend herself. She died in 2001 at the age of 42 from an overdose of prescription pain pills for a chronic back problem.

The Journal-Constitution sent a letter to Warner Bros., Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray, saying, “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. We further demand that you add a prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.”

There’s also the threat of a lawsuit.

The film is set to be released nationally on Friday. As one observer said on Twitter, you would think a movie about Richard Jewell would be more careful about taking liberties with a real person’s life story. Or, as AJC editor Kevin G. Riley told Variety, “The film literally makes things up and adds to misunderstandings about how serious news organizations work. It’s ironic that the film commits the same sins that it accuses the media of committing.”

Riley told IndieWire, “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.”

Wilde also is taking heat for her portrayal. In defending the plot, she told Deadline that she did an “extraordinary amount of research about Kathy Scruggs” and talked to Scruggs’ friends and colleagues. But Scruggs’ brother said Wilde never reached out to him or any of Scruggs’ close friends.

Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride tweeted:

“For all the talk in Hollywood of making progress on women’s issue, this is a real setback.”

There’s no question that what happened to Jewell was wrong, and the media played a part in that. (Read this Henry Schuster apology piece in The Washington Post.)

Ultimately, that has nothing to do with the portrayal of Scruggs in this movie. Accusing a reporter of trading sex for scoops is an awful accusation, not far from plagiarism or fabrication. To do so without any proof is appalling.

Warner Bros. put out a statement Monday night, firing back at the AJC: “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 New York Times notes that a disclaimer at the end of the film says it was based on “actual historical events,” and “Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.”

But that disclaimer hardly excuses saying an actual person did something as unethical as sleeping with a source just for the sake of “dramatization.”

Bill Hemmer to replace Shepard Smith

Fox News’ Bill Hemmer. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Fox News has found a replacement for Shepard Smith. Bill Hemmer, anchor of Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” morning broadcast will take over for Smith, who resigned in October over tensions with the opinion side of the network. Hemmer’s show will be called “Bill Hemmer Reports” and will debut Jan. 20 in the 3 p.m. Eastern time slot.

All eyes will be on Hemmer’s show to see if it carries on Smith’s model of straight news, or if it bends more right as much of Fox News programming does.

In a story on, Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy (frequent critics of Fox News) write that Hemmer isn’t known for fact-checking political falsehoods or challenging President Donald Trump’s misinformation the way Smith did. Smith’s style, perhaps, rubbed Fox News’ base the wrong way, according to Stelter and Darcy. It should be noted that Smith’s viewership numbers were among the lowest daytime numbers on Fox News, lending credence to the idea that Smith wasn’t a favorite among the network’s regular viewers.

Stelter and Darcy wrote, “Hemmer is significantly less confrontational. As co-anchor of the late morning program ‘America’s Newsroom,’ Hemmer has allowed guests to advance misleading talking points without much of a challenge. There are some examples of Hemmer providing pushback to White House aides and other guests. But his general approach is to ask questions and accept the response he receives — even if it’s a deceptive or inaccurate response.”

For what it’s worth, Trump applauded Hemmer’s hire, tweeting, “A great choice. Bill is a winner!”

Violated, objectified and embarrassed … at work, on live TV

She was just doing her job, covering a local running race. What happened next, she said, violated, objectified and embarrassed her. A male racer ran by her and smacked her on the rear end.

Alex Bozarjian, who works at NBC affiliate WSAV in Savannah, Georgia, retweeted the incident and added, “No woman should EVER have to put up with this at work or anywhere!! Do better.” (The video has well over 10 million views.)

On Twitter, the Savannah Sports Council said it had identified the runner and shared the information with Bozarjian and the station. It wrote, “We will not tolerate behavior like this at a Savannah Sports Council event. We have made the decision to ban this individual from registering for all Savannah Sports Council owned races.”

Buy our newspaper. Please.

Chicago Tribune Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mary Schmich wrote a column for an audience of one: the new owner of the Tribune, whoever that might be.

“But we know we need you,” she wrote, “and urgently.”

Schmich, writing on behalf of the journalists at the Tribune, explained who the journalists are: hard-working tellers of truth who often aren’t paid what they deserve. Then she wrote her wish list for a new owner.

That includes someone with deep pockets who cares about making an investment in community and democracy. And someone who respects truth above all else, including their personal interests.

She wrote, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make your mark on Chicago history, to make yourself rich in honor, to be — no exaggeration — a hero. But hurry. History won’t wait.”

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital became the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing last month.

Here’s why journalism matters

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)  

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) is urging the Bureau of Prisons to investigate a Florida prison because of allegations of systemic sexual abuse of female inmates by male staff. Why? Because of a story Rubio read in the Miami Herald. The Herald reported on allegations at the women’s work camp at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumterville, Florida.

Rubio wrote U.S. Attorney General William Barr, “These allegations are simply abhorrent, and I urge you to take immediate action to ensure such behavior is neither happening, nor tolerated, at FCC Coleman or any other BOP facility.”

And here’s another example of journalism making a difference in Florida. Congressman Charlie Crist (D-Fla) saw a story in the Tampa Bay Times about a woman separated from her husband and three oldest children when she returned to Mexico to get a visa. That family has now been reunited.

Top editor leaves Indianapolis

Ronnie Ramos, executive editor of The Indianapolis Star, has resigned. Originally the paper reported it was to “pursue new opportunities.” Well that new opportunity is already here. He was named executive editor of The Daily Memphian — a primarily daily online publication that covers the Memphis, Tenn. community — on Monday. He will start in early January.

Ramos joined the IndyStar in 2013 and took over the news operation in March of last year. In a meeting with staff, Ramos said, “After almost six years at IndyStar, it is time for another challenge. I love the 11 years I have spent in Indianapolis, and it will always be my second home.”

Gannett, which owns IndyStar, will conduct a national search to replace Ramos. Senior News Director Ginger Rough will serve as interim executive editor.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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  • If the Atlanta Journal Constitution was about as half as concerned about Richard Jewell’s reputation…