Once again the press displays a fluid set of standards, based on the target of the story.
This weekend is busy for Hollywood as there are a number of new films flooding into theaters, with two very prominent titles opening side by side. One motion picture is an Academy Awards-worthy drama based on real-life events from a major studio with numerous Oscar winners involved in a scathing critique of the journalism complex. The other title — can be described exactly the same way. But there is a glaring difference in how the two films are being interpreted in the press.
‘’Bombshell’’, from Lionsgate, highlights the sexual harassment scandal that swept through the Fox News Corporation. Charlize Theron is already considered assured of an Oscar nomination for portraying Megyn Kelly, with Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie also receiving praise.
The second title is ‘’Richard Jewell’’, centered on the Atlanta Olympic bombing in 1996 and how the hero of that tragedy saw his life made into turmoil due to wrongful allegations made by the FBI and the press, led by investigations in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Clint Eastwood directs and Kathy Bates plays the mother of the titular character, who just received a Golden Globes nomination for the role, as did Theron and Robbie.
Despite the numerous similarities, one of the movies is coming under fire for taking dramatic license with the subject matter, while the other film is more warmly received. ‘’Jewell’’ has come under fire from the AJC for how its coverage has been maligned in the film, and how its reporter has been portrayed. Reporter Kathy Scruggs is suggested as having used questionable methods to obtain the big break in the story that the paper covered regarding the security guard at the center of the film.
As I detailed previously, the claims of the paper that its coverage of Richard Jewell was all above board and vetted as accurate fails upon basic introspection. They had made numerous claims of his character and even aligned him as showing signs of being a potential killer, all without anything approaching evidence. The AJC has even had to admit they based things frequently on evidence that became shown as circumstantial, and tries to clear itself by saying it vigorously reported on Jewell being exonerated.
The other issue the Atlanta newspaper has is how former reporter Kathy Scruggs was portrayed. Of particular dispute was the scene where a Scruggs affair with an FBI agent is implied, though taking place offscreen, and this is the impetus of her break in the Richard Jewell. Apart from the laughable claim that the paper is blameless, the only other complaint given is this inferred sexual affair, and the professional implications it carries.
Some in the press are using this as the reason to cast scorn on the film.
I saw 'Richard Jewell.' With "alternative facts" and a plot twist around fake news that smears a dead female journalist, Eastwood dangerously amplifies Trump's "enemies of the people" rhetoric. Stay away and spend your $$ on your local org. My new column https://t.co/FMwJHLZgU1
— Will Bunch Sign Up For My Newsletter (@Will_Bunch) December 11, 2019
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— Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview) December 11, 2019
Glossing over the details that this is a dramatic motion picture and dramatic details have always occurred in any film based on real-life events, is this really enough to cast scorn on the film? The AJC is proven to have slandered Richard Jewell, so we are supposed to disregard the entire film over a single disputed scene. If this is the standard, then what of ‘’Bombshell’’?
Not surprisingly, the movie that takes a scalding approach to Fox News is not being held to the same level of cinematic truthfulness. Note how few reporters are outraged at a film attacking the media complex, as long as the reviled Fox News is the target. This is acceptable, despite the fact that Bombshell’’ shares one more aspect with ‘’Jewell’’ — fabricated content.
In ‘’Jewell’’ we are told showing Scruggs getting a tip via a sexual affair is cause to dismiss the film. Then what is the reaction to ”Bombshell” and Margot Robbie in the role of the ludicrously-named Kayla Pospisil, the office worker who is a key component in the storyline of the women abused by management? I am not being offensive to someone’s name here, because Kayla is a fabricated character. Completely made up. She is explained to be a composite of numerous Fox employees, said to be created out of the need for dramatic expediency.
So where is the journalistic backlash? If a contested scene in one film is grounds for its rejection should not a wholly fictionalized character in a true life film be considered a greater threat to the truth? Where are the media members decrying this tactic? Few and far between, when looked for as a result. Seems this becomes an acceptable practice in a motion picture as long as the target of this artificial narrative is Fox News. The ‘’false, but true’’ canard applies, and all are happy.
The revealing irony is that some have condemned director Clint Eastwood for delivering what is called anti-journalism agitprop. The use of dramatically inserted elements invalidates the entire film as a false product. Yet the press is willing to excuse a far greater use of this method because it is done to attack a news organization they revile. Suddenly the press is not threatened. Suddenly a strict adherence to the facts is not required. And suddenly those individuals affected by the narrative onscreen are not in need of being defended.
As we have come to learn, the press operates with very fluid standards — leading to some accusing Clint Eastwood of the very practice they are engaging, even in order to level their accusation.