Kathy Scruggs was an American journalist, based in Atlanta, Georgia, best known for her role in the case of hero Richard Jewell. While commentators agree Scruggs was a beautiful woman, with a strong personality, her defenders assert media portrayals of her have obscured her genuine professionalism and dedication, with an undue focus on her lovelife.
Scruggs was born in Athens, Georgia. Her father, who had trained as a GI reporter during World War 2, was a senior executive in the Insurance Industry. She earned a degree at Queen's College in Charlotte, North Carolina, before entering journalism herself.
Scruggs and colleague Ron Martz broke the story that the FBI were investigating Jewell as a suspect in a deadly bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Jewell was a security guard at an Olympic event and initial reports describe him noticing a suspicious package and taking key steps to clearing potential victims from the area, saving lives. However, Scruggs ran with a leak that the FBI's main suspect was Jewell, based on the theory he set up the bombing specifically so he would be regarded as a hero.
Other reporters surrounded Jewell's home, and he lived under a cloud of suspicion for years - until the real bomber was found, after he was caught for another crime. The real bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, had been an anti-abortion kook, and protesting abortion had been his motive. Jewell had been a hero, all along.
After he was cleared Jewell sued. Scruggs faced jail if she did not reveal her source. Scruggs refused, and appealed the jail term. While her appeal was in process she was found dead of a drug overdose.
Controversy over media portrayals of Scruggs
In a 2013 profile of her Doug Monroe, who had been a colleague of hers, at The Atlanta Journal, described her a hard-drinking, hard-partying, risk-taking crime reporter that the Police loved. Monroe described her going to the scene of a murder, and arriving before the Police, only to ask them what had taken them so long, to arrive.
- "She was blonde and wore miniskirts and gaudy stockings. She smoked. She drank. She cussed. She flaunted her sexuality. She dated Lewis Grizzard. She dated an editor who allegedly beat her with a telephone. She dated cops, including one who was accused of stealing money from the pockets of the dead. 'Kathy was a bigger-than-life figure,' Coram says. 'She was over the top in many ways.'"
In 2019 two movies about Jewell were released, with Scruggs portrayed by Carla Gugino and Olivia Wilde. Those films portrayals of the role Scruggs love-life played in her reporting was a source of controversy. Richard Jewell, directed by Clint Eastwood, was the target of more criticism Critics say that film shows Scruggs being offered a tip-off that the FBI was investigating Jewell as the possible bomber from an FBI agent with whom she was having sexual relations. Scruggs colleagues, at The Atlanta Journal Constitution assert Scruggs was too professional to have ever used her sexuality this way. Doug Monroe, one of those colleagues, acknowledged that Scruggs's relationships had been subject to reporting, but that none of her lovers had ever been the source for a story.
Health and death
Colleagues say questions over her role in the demonizing of Jewell troubled her in her final years. She took medical leave in 2000, and, on September 2, 2001, she passed away from an overdose, at the age of 42. Sources differ on the details of the overdose. Many say she died from an overdose of drugs she had been legally prescribed. Other sources say the drugs were opiates, or, explicitly, morphine. The capture of the real bomber, which finally cleared Jewell of lingering suspicion, didn't take place until 2003. Jewell himself passed away in 2007.
- "Kathy Scruggs: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy magazine. December 2019. Archived from the original on 2021-08-23. https://web.archive.org/web/20210823175730/https://heavy.com/entertainment/2019/12/kathy-scruggs-now-today/. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "A woman who knew her wrote on Kathy’s relative’s Facebook page, 'I remember Kathy from Athens Academy days! She was a good bit older than me, but I admired her beauty, spunk, and charisma! Don’t let these Hollywood pretenders get you down!!'"
- Shreya Bhatti (2020-09-20). "The Sad End to Atlanta Bombing Reporter Kathy Scruggs’ Life". Qnews hub. Archived from the original on 2021-10-11. https://web.archive.org/web/20211011121434/https://qnewshub.com/entertainment/the-sad-end-to-atlanta-bombing-reporter-kathy-scruggs-life/. Retrieved 2021-10-18. "In the 1990s, Scruggs was known for her solid reporting, her tight relationship with local law enforcement, and also her hard-partying ways, something that was exacerbated after she set off the media firestorm directed at Jewell."
- Shreya Bhatt (2020-09-22). "The Sad End to Atlanta Bombing Reporter Kathy Scruggs’ Life". Qnews. Archived from the original on 2021-10-11. https://web.archive.org/web/20211011121434/https://qnewshub.com/entertainment/the-sad-end-to-atlanta-bombing-reporter-kathy-scruggs-life/. Retrieved 2021-10-19.
- "What Happened To Kathy Scruggs? Learn About The Reporter Who Broke The Jewell Story". Republic World. 2020-12-16. https://www.republicworld.com/entertainment-news/web-series/what-happened-to-kathy-scruggs-learn-about-the-reporter-who-broke-the-jewell-story.html. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "The report reveals that Scruggs passed away in 2001 when she was only 42."
- Benjamin Lee (2019-12-13). "Richard Jewell pushes a damaging myth about female journalists. Stop defending it". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2021-09-17. https://web.archive.org/web/20210917080903/https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/dec/13/richard-jewell-kathy-scruggs-olivia-wilde-irresponsible. Retrieved 2021-10-19.
- LaTesha Harris (2019-12-02). "Olivia Wilde Defends Her ‘Richard Jewell’ Character: ‘Don’t Reduce Her to This One Thing’". Variety magazine. Archived from the original on 2021-07-22. https://web.archive.org/web/20210722094246/https://variety.com/2019/film/news/olivia-wilde-defends-richard-jewell-character-kathy-scruggs-1203421696/. Retrieved 2021-10-19.
- Katie Hasty (2019-12-16). "Clint Eastwood only hurt himself with Richard Jewell's worst cliché". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 2021-08-05. https://web.archive.org/web/20210805232013/https://ew.com/movies/2019/12/16/richard-jewell-female-journalist-cliche-clint-eastwood/. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), who is based on a real-life, now-deceased Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist; she, the film alleges, opened the floodgates to the merciless hounding of Jewell (who died in 2007) by (accurately) reporting that the FBI was considering Jewell a suspect in the bombing. Aside from expressing ineptitude at one of her core job duties (“I kinda write like a brick,” she [proudly?] admits to one of her co-workers, as he begins to pen her story for her), Scruggs is depicted as frothingly hypersexual and makes the obvious implication she’ll have sex for news tips with FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm). It’s like she showed up from a differnet film."
- Jennifer Brett (2019-11-26). "The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs". The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Archived from the original on 2021-08-05. https://web.archive.org/web/20210805235100/https://www.ajc.com/news/local/the-ballad-kathy-scruggs/Ua5vSJBTHzkQfC1Lvs6snK/. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "'Kathy was a wild child,' said friend and former coworker Tony Kiss."
- Doug Monroe (2003-07-01). "Requiem for a Reporter: Kathy Scruggs". Atlanta magazine. Archived from the original on 2021-09-27. https://web.archive.org/web/20210927215449/https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/requiem-for-a-reporter-kathy-scruggs/. Retrieved 2021-10-18. "AJC ace Kathy Scruggs broke the story that made Richard Jewell a household name. It also started her downward spiral."
- Vrinda Bachchan (2020-09-22). "Who Was Kathy Scruggs? How Did She Die?". The Cinemaholic. Archived from the original on 2021-01-18. https://web.archive.org/web/20210118151905/https://thecinemaholic.com/who-was-kathy-scruggs-how-did-she-die/. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "The man, Richard Jewell, went from being hailed a hero to the most hated villain when Kathy Scruggs, a journalist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, broke the news about Jewell being looked at as the main suspect by the FBI."
- Jim Clark (2020-03-13). "The sad story of a hero destroyed by others ambitions". Lee County Courier. Archived from the original on 2020-10-27. https://web.archive.org/web/20201027035222/http://www.leecountycourier.net/about_people/the-sad-story-of-a-hero-destroyed-by-others-ambitions/article_a5ca4648-653c-11ea-a49a-cb7c4702803a.html. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "An ambitious reporter who didn’t check out everything before going to press and a FBI agent, who wanted to solve the case quickly looked to Jewell as the bomb suspect. Jewell was unknown to authorities, and a lone wolf profile made sense to FBI investigators after they were contacted by his former employer at Piedmont College. Jewell was named as a person of interest, although he was never arrested. Jewell's home was searched, his background exhaustively investigated, and he became the subject of intense media interest and surveillance, including a media siege of his home."
- Brent Lang (2019-12-13). "‘Richard Jewell’: Kathy Scruggs’ Roommate, Family Angered by Journalist’s Portrayal". Variety magazine. Archived from the original on 2021-03-02. https://web.archive.org/web/20210302153029/https://variety.com/2019/film/news/richard-jewell-kathy-scruggs-roommate-journalist-portrayal-1203435902/. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "The story would have tragic consequences for both Jewell, who was ultimately exonerated after being caught up in a media firestorm, and Scruggs, who spent her final years battling a lawsuit. Jewell died of heart failure in 2007 at the age of 43, while Scruggs died in 2001 at the age of 42 of an overdose of prescription pain pills."
- Anthony D'Alessandro (2019-12-03). "‘Richard Jewell’ Controversy: Olivia Wilde Calls Out Double Standard Of Sexism". Deadline magazine. Archived from the original on 2021-01-25. https://web.archive.org/web/20210125221716/https://deadline.com/2019/12/olivia-wilde-responds-to-richard-jewell-kathy-scruggs-controversy-1202799205/. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "There is the strong suggestion that Scruggs (Wilde) had a sexual relationship with the FBI agent (Jon Hamm) who tipped her. 'There is no evidence that this ever happened' regarding Scruggs’ quid pro quo, and 'if the film portrays this, it’s offensive and deeply troubling in the #MeToo era,' Riley wrote."
- Marianne Garvey (2019-12-10). "‘Richard Jewell’ film under fire for depiction of journalist Kathy Scruggs". CNN. Archived from the original on 2021-10-08. https://web.archive.org/web/20211008065940/https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/10/entertainment/kathy-scruggs-richard-jewell-film-trnd/index.html. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "The paper is claiming that Warner Bros. and the movie’s producers took dramatic license and portrayed Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde in the film, as having traded sex for information from a FBI source, and having done so due to being exploited by the newspaper – accusations the paper denies."
- Doha Madani; Alex Johnson (2019-12-12). "Richard Jewell's lawyer agrees the movie smeared Atlanta newspaper reporter". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2021-03-03. https://web.archive.org/web/20210303233650/https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/olivia-wilde-says-she-doesn-t-believe-richard-jewell-journalist-n1101126. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "Many journalists have strongly criticized the portrayal as perpetuating a pernicious and false stereotype that some female journalists trade sex for information, which U.S. news organizations prohibit as unethical."
- Alejandro de la Garza (2019-12-13). "The True Story Behind the Movie Richard Jewell". Time magazine. Archived from the original on 2021-01-25. https://web.archive.org/web/20210125053410/https://time.com/5748926/richard-jewell-movie-true-story/. Retrieved 2021-10-19. "Wilde later elaborated on Twitter, saying that she has “deep respect for the essential work of” journalists, and that she understood her character and Hamm’s to be 'in a pre-existing romantic relationship, not a transactional exchange of sex for information.' She added: 'I do not believe sex-positivity and professionalism are mutually exclusive. Kathy Scruggs was a modern, independent woman whose personal life should not detract from her accomplishments.'"