The controversial treatment of the late Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs in the new movie “Richard Jewell” is being blasted as “false & damning” by the Buckhead attorney who once sued the AJC and Scruggs for libel on Jewell’s behalf.
The Clint Eastwood-directed movie about the Atlanta Olympics bombing hero-turned-suspect, set for release on Dec. 13, is already widely criticized for a scene allegedly showing Scruggs offering sex for a scoop about the suspect’s identity. The AJC says Scruggs did no such thing and has threatened the filmmakers with legal action if they don’t include a warning about the script’s fictions.
Attorney L. Lin Wood was once the AJC’s fierce opponent on the Jewell case, suing the paper, Scruggs and her co-reporter Ron Martz for libel. It was a bitter case that at one point saw the reporters facing jail time for refusing to reveal their sources. The AJC eventually won on the grounds the story of the FBI’s suspicions about Jewell was accurate at the time.
Now Wood is defending Scruggs and the paper on Twitter.
“I handled Richard Jewell’s case against AJC for 16 years,” he wrote in a series of tweets on the night of Dec. 12. “By the time the case ended, Richard & Ms. Scruggs had both passed away. There was NO evidence to support a storyline that Ms. Scruggs traded sex for tips about Richard. We never made such a false & damning claim.”
Wood also gave a partial identification of Scruggs’ source, saying that information emerged in the evidence from the libel case. The AJC has never named the source of the Jewell tip, and as recently as Nov. 12, a former AJC editor declined to confirm or deny another claim about the source’s identity in a public forum. However, the AJC’s recent letter to the “Richard Jewell” filmmakers, written by an attorney, cites a Vanity Fair story upon which the film is based as saying that Scruggs allegedly got the tip from a “close friend” in the FBI, which was confirmed by “someone” in the Atlanta Police Department.
In his tweets, Wood said that evidence showed Scruggs got the tip from a boyfriend who was a member of the Atlanta Police Department and that the AJC confirmed the tip with the FBI.
“… Truth does not sell box office tickets. A movie cannot change truth under the evidence. Truth does not change,” Wood said in his tweets.
Wood was tweeting in response to a tweet from AJC political reporter Greg Bluestein, who in turn was responding with criticism to actor Olivia Wilde, who was defending her portrayal of Scruggs.
“This falls flat,” Bluestein wrote in the tweet. “She played Kathy Scruggs how you’d expect a Clint Eastwood movie to portray a reporter: as a vapid, one-dimensional cartoon villain who blatantly traded sex for a news tip and, amid the carnage of a bomb scene, prayed not for the victims but for a good story.”
Wood, a Buckhead resident, is a prominent libel attorney whose other clients have included family members of JonBenét Ramsey, the child victim of a notorious unsolved murder. In an interview last year, Wood recalled his work with Jewell and praised him as a hero.
“People are going to remember Richard Jewell as the guy falsely accused of bombing the Olympics,” said Wood. “Richard should be remembered as a hero of the Centennial Olympic Games. Richard saved hundreds of innocent lives. … He was a legitimate hero.”