She was groped on live television.
As television reporter Alex Bozarjian covered a Savannah, Ga., race last weekend, a male participant leaned over and slapped her rear end. After a startled pause, and with an expression of pained horror women know too well, she continued to do her job.
That’s the reality of being a woman journalist — unwanted touching, catcalls, awkward hugs, forced kisses. On YouTube, they’re shown among “news bloopers,” sexual misconduct repackaged as a laugh riot.
It’s one of many reasons Clint Eastwood’s latest film is so infuriating — and why the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is right to demand a disclaimer.
“Richard Jewell” is based on the true story of the titular security guard first hailed a hero, then wrongly accused of being the Centennial Olympic Park bomber during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Two people died, and more than 100 were injured.
Also getting significant screen time is Olivia Wilde as Kathy Scruggs, the Journal-Constitution reporter who broke the story that the FBI was investigating Jewell as a suspect. More than just the aggressive reporter colleagues recall, Eastwood, who directed the film, and screenwriter Billy Ray, show Scruggs as a woman who sleeps her way to a scoop.
In a crucial scene, Scruggs tries suggestively coaxing an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) into revealing Jewell’s name. “Kathy, if you couldn’t [expletive] it out of them,” he says, “what makes you think you can [expletive] it out of me?” Of course, it doesn’t take much for the agent to spill what he knows. Says Scruggs, “Do you want to get a room or just go to my car?”
Journalists and the FBI are depicted with such a level of cartoonish villainy and immorality, I’m surprised President Trump isn’t an executive producer.
Scruggs’s former Journal-Constitution colleagues say there’s no evidence she ever bartered sex for news tips, but why would that stop Eastwood and Ray from dusting off the repulsive lie that for working women, nothing succeeds like seduction and sex?
Now, Scruggs’s former newspaper is demanding that filmmakers 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.” It also wants a “prominent disclaimer” added to the film, which opens Friday.
Scruggs can’t defend herself. She died in 2001, at 42, and never recovered, former co-workers say, from her role in upending Jewell’s life. “It haunted her until her last breath,” Tony Kiss said earlier this year. “It crushed her like a junebug on the sidewalk.” In 2011, the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit against the Journal-Constitution, concluding that “the articles in their entirety were substantially true at the time they were published.”
Jewell, who died in 2007, at 44, was cleared about three months after the terrorist attack. In 2003, Eric Rudolph, a white supremacist who also bombed a lesbian bar and a women’s clinic (a police officer was killed) was arrested. He received a life sentence in 2005.
Those are the facts. But Eastwood and Ray can’t keep their thumb off the scale. Even Wilde is charging critics with sexism, claiming they have “boiled down” Scruggs’s legacy “to one element of her person, one inferred moment in the film.” She added, “By no means was I intending to suggest that as a female reporter, she needed to use her sexuality.”
This is a Trumpian defense — accusing others of doing exactly what you’ve done. Of course, so many women who’ve worked hard to further their careers, only to be tarred by whispers and innuendo, recognize what it means to have their professional lives boiled down to a misogynistic misperception.
If only this were an outlier. Instead, “Richard Jewell” reinforces nasty stereotypes that have driven Hollywood plotlines in such disparate works as “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” a frothy romantic comedy, to Netflix’s political drama “House of Cards.” Only this time, a real woman’s name and reputation is disparaged with the false tenet that clings to women in every profession, in every workplace: that their success is achieved not with talent or dedication, but on their backs or knees.