Clint Eastwood
© Reuters / Mario Anzuoni
Clint Eastwood at the 'Richard Jewell' premiere in Los Angeles
Clint Eastwood's 'Richard Jewell' tells the story of an innocent man whose life is ruined by a media witch hunt, featuring a reporter who sleeps with sources for gossip. To say journalists are offended is an understatement.

Journalists are used to movies that portray them as heroes. As champions of justice who speak truth to power, and against all odds reveal the crimes the powerful want to keep hidden. 'Spotlight' told the story of the Boston Globe's investigative unit revealing systemic child abuse by the Catholic Church. 'All the President's Men' recounted how Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein caught Richard Nixon bugging the Watergate Hotel. 'Veronica Guerin' showed viewers how one Irish journalist helped bring down the country's biggest crime kingpin in the 1990s.

Superman was a journalist in his day job, for crying out loud!

Clint Eastwood, one of Hollywood's last surviving Republicans, tells a different story in 'Richard Jewell'. The titular Jewell was a security guard who saved countless lives when he ushered crowds of people away from a pipe bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell later became a suspect in the FBI's investigation, a fact revealed by his hometown paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Jewell was hounded by the media for several months, and portrayed as a disgruntled "lone bomber." He was eventually cleared of involvement that October, and issued an apology by US Attorney General Janet Reno a year later. He died of a heart attack in 2007, after suffering health problems his mother claims were brought about by the stress of his "trial by media."

Richard Jewell
© Reuters / John Kuntz
Richard Jewell surrounded by media after being questioned by authorities, 1996
According to the movie, AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs slept with an FBI agent to learn about Jewell being a suspect.

The AJC responded with a lawsuit and an angry letter last month, claiming "there is no evidence that this ever happened, and if the film portrays this, it's offensive and deeply troubling in the #MeToo era."

The letter also slams Eastwood's core message that "the FBI and press are not to be trusted."

There is nothing to suggest that Scruggs actually slept with an FBI agent for leads. She allegedly had a relationship with a law enforcement officer that ended prior to the Olympics, but it's impossible to ask her. Scruggs died in 2001, aged 42. For its part, Warner Bros. responded to the AJC's letter with a staunch defense of its story.

"It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast," read a statement from the studio.

Just like how reporters en masse cried for critics to be censored for telling them to "learn to code" earlier this year, the media dogpile that followed the movie's preview didn't do much to rehabilitate the image of the journalist as professional complainer.

"Richard Jewell pushes a damaging myth about female journalists. Stop defending it,"demanded the Guardian's Benjamin Lee. "I wish Clint Eastwood would do to himself what female movie journalists are always doing to their sources,"wrote Mother Jones' Becca Andrews.

On Twitter, the outrage intensified. "Depicting women using sex to get stories is disgusting and disrespectful. It's also hacky as hell. I was planning to see this movie but not anymore,"declared the Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young. "Please do not pay to see movies that feature fictional female journalists who sleep with sources for a story," Slate's Mark Joseph Stern chimed in, adding"I don't see an appropriate response other than a flat-out boycott."

Combing through the endless tweets and articles from offended journalists, you'd think that Eastwood had sexually harassed each and every one of them, and that female journalists would never do anything as base as sleep with a source.

Better not mention the New York Times' Ali Watkins, who was in a years-long relationship with a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer while reporting on the committee's work. Or Laura Foreman. Back in the 1970s, Foreman, who worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer, had a long term affair with State Senator Henry 'Buddy' Cianfrani, writing about him even as he went to prison on racketeering charges, and accepting lavish gifts from her lover.

Her paper's editor, AM Rosenthal, reportedly told her afterwards "It's okay to f**k the elephants. Just don't cover the circus."

To be clear, these cases are exceptions, not the rule. And some male reporters surely engage in bouts of horizontal cardio with their female sources too. Sex can be a natural byproduct of proximity and shared interest, and nobody should be shocked when it inevitably happens between consenting adults.

Biopics always take certain liberties with the facts of the story, for dramatic effect. One can't help but wonder if Eastwood would be facing the same outcry if he dramatized some other aspect of Jewell's tale. Would journalists be up in arms if he hadn't come after their own white-knight image?

Maybe Eastwood knows this. Maybe inserting a fictionalized sex scene was a deliberate move. After all, it's giving the AJC and the media at large a sample of what they gave Jewell 20 years ago.