Two high-profile films about journalism hit theaters over the weekend, with two very different reactions from our media overlords.
One caused a flurry of reporters to shriek in fury. The other? Not a peep in protest. The reasons why say plenty about the sorry state of modern journalism and why trust in the institution continues to crater.
Clint Eastwood’s film “Richard Jewell” excoriates the press for claiming the security guard who saved lives at the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing was the monster behind the attack.
Here’s what NBC News’ Tom Brokaw said at the time, a quote included in the film:
“They probably have enough to arrest him right now… probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still holes in this case.”
Journalists said Eastwood’s film unfairly suggested former Atlanta-Journal Constitution Journalist Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, slept with an FBI agent for the critical tip. Scruggs died in 2001 from a drug overdose and cannot defend her reputation.
That led AJC to demand Warner Bros. include a disclaimer in the film or face legal repercussions. The movie studio, Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray all stand by their story.
Still, reporters rushed to Twitter, decrying a painful stereotype against female journalists.
I had a colleague who was raped on assignment. I’ve known many who have been propositioned, pawed and threatened. I’ve known none who slept with a source in exchange for a story. Defaming the dead Kathy Scruggs this way is an act of cowardice and malice. https://t.co/b88nFMGxkJ
— Ann Marie Lipinski (@AMLwhere) December 14, 2019
— Julie Hinds (@juliehinds) December 12, 2019
Media outlets fed the outrage, most recently letting Scruggs’ family and an old roommate weigh in with their disgust.
However, these same reporters ignored two recent, high-profile cases where female journalists did exactly what the “Richard Jewell” journalist did. As Stephen Miller points out in the Spectator:
…the three-year affair between (surprise), New York Times reporter Ali Watkins and James Wolfe, a senior aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a frequent source for her stories. In October of this year, an employee of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency was arrested for leaking classified material to two reporters, one of which he was involved in a romantic relationship with (this was allegedly CNBC reporter Amanda Macias.) It should be noted that both Watkins and Macias are still employed by the Times and CNBC.
Stop the presses!
Fact-based films routinely employ creative license to enhance storylines. They also use composite characters to condense themes and events. It’s fair to say “Richard Jewell” should have done just that with the journalist character in question, unless the filmmakers are holding evidence they’ve yet to share.
It’s still galling to see reporters attack “Richard Jewell” while ignoring the story’s key message. The media helped ruin an innocent man’s life, the not-so-buried lede. That lack of self awareness would be astounding had we not seen endless examples of it in the press over the past three years.
And then there’s “Bombshell,” another journalism film ripped from reality. “Bombshell” crucifies Fox News, Donald Trump and conservatives in toto while detailing how Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) allegedly used his perch to prey on female employees. Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman star as Fox News employees caught in Ailes’ clutches.
The film suggests Fox News is a hostile work environment for gay employees and that then-candidate Trump poisoned anchor Megyn Kelly’s coffee after learning she planned to grill him during the next debate.
“Bombshell” undercuts the former by recalling how Ailes shrugged after hearing star player Shepard Smith was gay.
The latter claim? Even the far-left Daily Beast notes there’s no evidence to back up the “bonkers” charge of Trump. Still, suggesting a president poisoned a reporter is a serious accusation. So why aren’t media outlets aghast at the misrepresentation? That’s rhetorical in the Age of Trump.
It gets worse. Multiple “Bombshell” reviewers mocked the film for asking audiences to care about Ailes’ victims. After all, they’re conservative women, and therefore not worth our sympathies.
In one example, Forbes’ Critic Scott Mendelson says, “the film never really confronts the conundrum of wanting us to root for outright villains just because their superiors were worse.”
It’s also noteworthy that Theron, who looks and sounds eerily like the real Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell,” didn’t bother to meet the former Fox News star to prepare for the role.
That’s common practice in Hollywood circles, a way to better capture the soul of the character in question. Theron may have recoiled at the thought, considering she nearly rejected the role because she disagreed with Kelly’s political positions. (Yet Theron happily played a real-life serial killer in “Monster” and won an Oscar for it).
The media consider the late Scruggs, who took part in the dehumanization of Jewell, a saint while offering little empathy for women who suffered serial sexual abuse. Again, not a whisper of outrage about the latter development. Reporters may have genuine concern for Scruggs’ legacy, but that’s not their key reason for smiting “Richard Jewell.” The film has the goods on them.
Yes, media bias and corruption didn’t thrive in 1996 like it does today, but having the film come out now reminds us the problem didn’t start the moment Trump descended from that escalator four years ago.
The Left, and most reporters camp under that umbrella, also never forgave Eastwood for comparing President Barack Obama to an empty chair during the 2012 presidential campaign. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman is sure to bring that moment up, again, in a new column savaging “Richard Jewell.”
Gleiberman then gives away the game.
“Richard Jewell” is a drama that piggybacks on Trump’s demagoguery. The movie says that the mainstream media can’t be trusted, and that even the government’s top law enforcement agency will railroad you. And Jewell himself is the pudgy-soul-of-the-heartland, ordinary American white-guy yokel who gets used and abused by these corrupt institutions, with no one to look out for him.
That’s the fact, Jack, to quote Bill Murray in “Stripes.”
More importantly, Clint hit a nerve. They can’t forgive him, or his new movie, for that.