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A Review of a Review of Richard Jewell

“Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell tries to raise up the little guy. But It takes unnecessary shots in the process,” said the Time review. Readers weren’t having any of it.

“For some reason the same media that helped try to destroy this guy is pretty lukewarm on the movie about it,” tweeted Dan.

“Stephanie Zacharek is one of those writers that's more interested in [dissing] someone who doesn't fawn over the press than getting her facts straight,” added Penny.

William darkly warned: “Beware of journalists angry over this movie. Let's hope they do not become violent because of it.”

Richard Jewell was a security guard at the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He spotted an abandoned backpack. It looked suspicious. He reported it and authorities had enough time to start evacuating the area before it exploded. One died and over 100 were injured yet it could have been far worse. His actions saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives. For a time he was a hero. But then the FBI began to suspect him. When it did, the Atlanta newspaper poured gas on rumors—and his life accordingly went up in flames. For months he faced media frenzy wherever he went. Stephanie describes him as “portly and friendly” a man who is a bit odd, still “a zealously upstanding citizen with dreams of someday working in law enforcement....[with] no reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt.” He died at 44. Can anyone think his undeserved pariah-ship did not hasten his death?

Dmin let out a tentative feeler: “I have often wondered if Richard Jewel was someway under suspicion as a result of "fat shaming"? If he had been more movie star perfect would his actions have brought the same scrutiny and speculation?”

One can also read “job shaming” to the list—Jewell is a wannabe cop, not a real one, “shamed” in the same way that mall policemen are “shamed.” One might even add “class shaming”—Jewell was single and lived with his mother. Was it a rush to judgment from someone who was none of these things—a jab from one perceived to had “made it” in life toward one who had not? Probably the ones who commented were people like me—people who saw events unfold in real time and were aghast at the zeal with which the big little man was crucified.

The movie is a “well-acted picture about a clear act of injustice against an innocent man. So why does it leave such a sour aftertaste?” asks the reviewer. I will venture that it does not to anyone other than a journalist. It does to reviewer Stephanie because it is one of her own who is skewered, the late reporter Kathy Scruggs. She’s not painted fairly, is the complaint, as though the purpose of the movie—of any movie—is to celebrate fourth estate journalism. The more I read the review, the more fed up I become. The profession that points the finger at everyone else has the thinnest skin of all when even one of the three fingers points back.

She writes: “Eastwood shows the utmost compassion for Richard Jewell, the wrongfully accused little guy. But his generosity stops there, and he shows particular vitriol and distaste for Scruggs. She is played as “a brazen smarty, a seasoned pro who zips from here to there, wherever the sirens take her. Her blouse may be unbuttoned a little too low, her skirt is perhaps a bit too short, but it’s all part of the game, and of her personal style. You can certainly make the case that Scruggs ran with the Richard Jewell story too soon, or used poor judgment in revealing his name. But all Eastwood can see is the vixen journo who’ll do anything for a story.”

I think that’s all most people can see in the wake of a speculative hit piece that destroys a person—while their sympathy wears thin with regard to the one who does it. “Scruggs—who died in 2001—was a real person” [as though Jewell was not]. Furthermore, “she’s no longer here to defend herself” [as Jewell was, but it didn’t do him a bit of good in the face of a journalistic assault].

It’s clear where Ms. Zacharek’s sympathy lies. Was the woman reporter truly a “brazen smarty?” Family and friends say no—she wouldn’t go so far as the implied trading of sex for a story—though they all agree on attributes such as “ball-busting,” “profane,” “loud,” “brash,” “liked to party,” “smoked like a chimney,” fond of  “Johnie Walker Red,” noteworthy for her “short skirts.” No crime in those things, but one might almost think a director could be cut some slack for confusing a person who so closely resembles a brazen smarty with an actual one that he couldn’t tell the difference.

Incredibly, a Scruggs colleague mourns that stress over the article is what killed her—oblivious to the collateral damage that takes out Jewell. “It destroyed her," she says quietly. Then she recalls a pivotal time that Scrugg’s editor “told her she needed to apologize. Instead, she quit." That’s what will infuriate anyone who is not a journalist. ‘Just apologize,’ the editor says. She can’t do it. A real genuine “loud” and “brash” swan dive of a public apology was all that was needed—it always worked for Ralph Kramden. Jewell would have forgiven it all—and if not he, then everyone else—for we all make mistakes and everybody knows it. She couldn’t do it.

Look, everyone sticks up for their own. It is to be expected. It is not wrong of Stephanie to do that. It is even commendable, so long as it does not overshadow everything else. Let Eastwood apologize to her if he is inclined—no harm in that, I don’t think. Warner Brothers outright refuses to. The movie states up front that certain historical events have been dramatized, they point out, as they always are in movies—what is it with people who cannot apologize? Would not life be so much more agreeable if they could? To be sure, sometimes the one seeking apology seeks considerably more than apology; sometimes what is sought is acquiescence to every aspect of a point of view, but apologies can be worded to not go that far if that is what is desired. Maybe no one apologizes anymore for fear lawyers will pounce upon one as a sure admission of guilt.

From the beginning of cinema, directors have realized that a movie needs a villain—otherwise the audience falls asleep. It can’t be all earnest people doing their level best and yet it all goes to hell anyway—what would that say about the world we are supposed to feel good about? What about Sully, another Eastwood movie, that painted the FAA as the villain? Did that one bother the Time reviewer? In fact, the FAA accepted from the beginning that Sully was a hero and did not hassle him at all, but Eastwood needed a villain and—come on! who makes a better villain than the government?

Another Eastwood movie (A Perfect World) even took a shot at my people, and you didn’t hear me complain about it (much), did you? “We have a higher calling,” the Jehovah’s Witness mom says as she disallows her kids to go trick or treating. No Witness in 1000 years is going to say, “We have a higher calling” to her kids—they simply don’t talk that way—so I knew that it was not personal with Clint. He just needed a villain. You didn’t catch JWs trying to torpedo A Perfect World on that account, did you, the way the press is waging war against this movie for touching one of its own?

John Hafley I can picture snorting out coffee through his nose. “Are you kidding me, Time? unnecessary shots?” he tweets of the review. “It is a fantastic historic review of how power and the press can destroy the innocent for sex and money. The strong will do what they can, the weak will suffer what they must.” He doesn’t even extend the benefit of the doubt to the reporter, so caught up is he with the plight of the victim.

 

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