How I Boarded The “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck

It is unusual to see an ethics train wreck continue to  roll along to the extent that it affects the movie about the ethics train wreck, but that was what happened with the Richard Jewell saga. Remember the definition of an ethics train wreck: an episode in which virtually everyone who becomes involved in it, however tangentially, becomes entangled in ethics mistakes and misconduct. The  “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck (or the Richard Jewell Ethics Train Wreck) even yanked me on board.

I’ve already written about the film, directed by Clint Eastwood and a 2019 holiday bomb (no pun intended). My focus then was on the single unethical feature of the screenplay, its unfair portrayal of the real-life Atlanta-Constitution reporter, the late Kathy Scruggs, who broke the FBI leak that the security guard who had become a national celebrity by detecting the deadly pipe bomb that had exploded at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics  was suspected of making the bomb himself. Though film reviewers usually register few rejections when films smear the deceased in pursuit of a more compelling narrative, “Richard Jewell’s” claim that Scruggs traded sex for the leak walked into the #MeToo buzzsaw, and on that basis alone, Clint’s movie was trashed  by reviewers and pundits alike.

Me Too, and I hadn’t seen it. I wrote in part,

I strongly doubt the average viewer passed on the film because it may have been unfair to a dead reporter. Who had the genius idea that releasing a film about the press’s abuse of a strange, sad, fat man played by an unknown actor would be a Christmas season hit? I had no interest in seeing the movie, and I’m an admirer of Eastwood and will cheer on any further proof of how rotten our journalism has become, but why pay to see the news media falsely try to destroy a security guard in 1996 when the same institution has been trying to destroy the President of the United States for three years?… So the news media was incompetent and vicious to Richard Jewell? That’s supposed to get me to the movie theater?

Nevertheless, let me be clear: I hate what the movie did to Kathy Scruggs, just as I detest it every time an individuals can’t defend themselves are lied about in a movie, misleading audiences and scarring their reputations….

Unless Eastwood had strong evidence that the reporter was trading sex for information, he should not have used her name. He owes the Scruggs family an apology, and I’m glad his movie is tanking.

Gee, the seats on the “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck are so comfy, and the fare on the snack car is excellent!

I finally saw “Richard Jewell” this week, thanks to boredom and desperation while being trapped in my home by the Wuhan Virus, and it is a superb movie, easily one of Eastwood’s best as a director. It is also an outstanding ethics film, raising many important ethics issues beyond journalism. The story has great relevance to today, not only regarding how the news media operates, but also law enforcement tactics, the FBI, profiling, prejudice, the corrupting influence of power, the destructive forces of celebrity and more.

The film is not “about about the press’s abuse of a strange, sad, fat man”; that was the false impression that the reviews gave to non-viewers (like me), and it was a misrepresentation based on the news media’s own agenda—imagine that! The story of that “strange, sad, fat man” which I earlier in my December post had said was “mostly forgotten”  should not be forgotten, because it is an American and human tragedy with many  lessons to teach. Jewell himself, who died at 44 from heart failure, was far more than a “strange, sad, fat man,” though the FBI, news media and public defining him by that cruel stereotype is a major reason the ugly train wreck started rolling.

And that “unknown actor”? His name is Paul Walter Hauser, and in my reasonably informed opinion as an experienced stage director and acting coach of some success, he gave one of the finest acting performances in a challenging role I have ever seen in a movie, not just last year, but ever. When Burt Reynolds was a young man, he was befriended by Spencer Tracy. Telling the veteran Hollywood legend that he was an aspiring actor, Reynolds took Tracy’s response to heart and said years later that it guided his work ever since. Tracy told him, “Well, don’t let them catch you at it.” You never catch Hauser acting in “Richard Jewell.” His performance is flawless, but the Oscars snubbed him, partially to punish Eastwood, I suspect, but also because he’s obese, white, male,and a relative nobody of the sort that only gets Supporting Actor nominations, which is where the Academy likes to show its “diversity.” *

Shame on them, and shame on me for any part I played in discouraging people from seeing “Richard Jewell.”

In a post later today, I’ll try to make amends by explaining the Richard Jewell Ethics Train Wreck, the one involving the man, not the movie.


*(The movie also was seen by Hollywood progressives as siding with President Trump by impugning the integrity of the FBI as well as reporters. Mustn’t do that...)

7 thoughts on “How I Boarded The “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck

  1. Thank you for the recommendation Jack-it’s now been added to my list of films that I, time permitting, wish to see.

    I do remember hearing some hullabaloo from critics about this film, lamenting as you pointed out, about the film’s ‘unfair’ portrayal of the so called press. I mean let’s be real here-journalists would NEVER stoop so low that they would distort and twist facts so as to smear a public figure. *sarcasm*

  2. Thanks, Jack. I can see what happened here — the media decided to crush this movie, and they succeeded. To them, it’s value was cast the minute Eastwood put his stamp on it, and they are tired of Eastwood’s success as a director. Even though Eastwood is not a fan of Trump, he is not one of them. The disparagement of a dead woman’s reputation is just the excuse they gave to entrap those who didn’t see it already into a negative perception, and give them a defensible reason not to watch it.

    Apparently, that appeal to “fairness” worked really, really well on #MeToo adherents, and especially sticklers for good ethics and manners like you. It also has general appeal, and the combination was deadly.

    I’m glad to hear your take. I was going to watch it anyway, but now I’m looking forward to it.

    • I wanted to watch the movie. I saw ads, but it never came to my theaters and I forgot about it. I remember how terrible this was at the time. It was fairly obvious he was being set up as a patsy so they could keep the crowds at the Olympics. There was no ‘evidence’ against him and their excuses for claiming he did it were pretty flimsy (remember, criminal ‘profilers’ actually helped lead to an arrest in only 5 of 184 cases). Don’t think the government won’t throw a hero under the bus just for a little good PR. Of course, they were still looking for the actual bomber and eventually found him. This is important because when the police think they have an actual suspect, they aren’t looking at anyone else. Look at the Richard Ames case or the Central Park Jogger case for good examples. The fact that they were still looking for the bomber is a good indication they knew Jewell was innocent the entire time.

      • I’m not sure they were looking for anyone else in this case, though. The real bomber was a serial bomber who confessed after being caught for some of the others, and added the Olympics to his confessions to get plea deal. Once they were convinced that Jewell fit the profile, they concentrated on trapping him, and, at least according to the film (and every fact-check I can locate) the main FBI investigators STILL were sure Jewell was guilty even after the FBI wrote the letter telling him he was no longer a target. In the post mortem, the FBI was criticized for NOT looking for anyone else once they were convinced that it was Jewell.

  3. Glad you liked it. I don’t think I had seen the film when you wrote your original article, but I still watched it because Kathy Bates was nominated. I really enjoyed it and it was very well done, couldn’t really understand what all the negativity was about, but chalked it up to bias against Clint. Not sure I would have changed the nominations in any category though… but my lingering gap in Oscar viewing this year is Antonio Banderas in Pain & Glory. So maybe that?

  4. The wife and I got to see it. Can’t remember when but it may have been in a discount theater.

    I thought the “traded sex” portrayal of the reporter was overblown by critics and just a way to try to vilify Eastwood and create a false moral equivalency so that people wouldn’t see it. It probably worked. The scene wherein this horrible smear took place was…nothing, really. It just seemed like a way to make the interactions between her and the FBI agent less dull. Some script doctor probably said, “There needs to be SOMETHING sexy in this movie. Let’s have them romantically involved.” I didn’t get the impression that she traded on sex.

    It’s not a justifiable thing to do, but as you noted, it’s absolutely standard Hollywood. Real life good guys who DIDN’T try to ruin anyone’s life for profit get turned into sadistic villains by Hollywood every week; and we’re supposed to believe that they’re principled about this one sleaze who is portrayed as a somewhat bigger sleaze.

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