Hollywood attorney Martin D. Singer is best known as the lawyer celebrities hire to terrify journalists—usually through intimidating demand letters threatening all manner of punishments and litigation—into not publishing facts that might cast them in a negative light.
Over the past four decades, the Brooklyn-born Singer has established such a fearsome reputation for scaring off bad stories that The New York Times dubbed him the “Guard Dog to the Stars,” and The Hollywood Reporter celebrated his law firm, Lavely & Singer, under the headline “RAGING BULLS: When It’s Time for the Gloves to Come Off, These Attack Dogs of L.A. Law Get the Call.”
So it came as something of a surprise on Monday—even a shock—when it was Marty Singer who sent one of his notorious demand letters to Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros.—whose new movie, Richard Jewell, purports to tell the true-life story of a man unjustly accused by the corrupt media and the FBI of bombing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics—on behalf of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“There is a rich irony in the fact that Marty Singer is now representing a media organization about its portrayal in a movie, because often you see Marty on the exact other side of the equation,” Hollywood Reporter Editor in Chief Matthew Belloni told The Daily Beast. “I am betting that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also recognized the irony of hiring Marty Singer and did so to make a point.”
Even before its official premiere, scheduled for Tuesday in Atlanta, the film has been widely condemned by journalists and others for its nasty, misogynistic portrayal of the late reporter who broke the accurate story that Jewell was under investigation, Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde as an unethical journalist who trades sexual favors for information.
Singer’s letter—which was also sent to screenwriter Billy Ray and journalist Marie Brenner, the author of the 1997 Vanity Fair article on which the film was partly based, along with Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwin’s book—says the movie “falsely portrays the AJC and its personnel as extraordinarily reckless, using unprofessional and highly inappropriate reporting methods and engaging in constitutional malice by recklessly disregarding information inconsistent with its planned reporting.”
The letter demands that the filmmakers acknowledge in a public statement that the portrayals are not factual but the product of imagination and “artistic license,” and that the movie itself include a disclaimer alerting moviegoers to the same things. Even if that is done, Singer’s letter continues, a lawsuit is still possible.
“You therefore proceed to disregard this letter’s demands at your peril,” he warns.
“The film is based on a wide range of highly credible source material. There is no disputing that Richard Jewell was an innocent man whose reputation and life were shredded by a miscarriage of justice,” Warner Bros. said in a statement. “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. ‘Richard Jewell’ focuses on the real victim, seeks to tell his story, confirm his innocence and restore his name. The AJC’s claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them.”
Eastwood’s attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment, and Billy Ray’s attorney had no comment. Brenner’s article, meanwhile, did not mischaracterize Scruggs, Singer’s letter pointed out.
The AJC’s top editor, Kevin Riley, told The Daily Beast that his newsroom has been in an uproar since Warner Bros. began screening the film several weeks ago, especially over the damaging portrayal of their late colleague—who is not around to defend herself—and the misconceptions the movie spreads about how journalists operate.
“It’s unbelievably gratuitous,” Riley said about the film’s inaccurate portrayal of Scruggs, who died in 2001 at age 42. “The letter is a way of communicating how seriously we take this portrayal of our reporter, who can’t defend herself, and of our work. We find it extremely troubling in these times when the media is under almost constant attack, for a film that claims to be portraying a real situation to suggest that this is how journalists operate. It is not how good journalists operate. It is not how we operate.”
Belloni, himself a Hollywood entertainment lawyer before becoming a journalist, said of Singer: “It’s worth noting that he has been the go-to lawyer for people in Hollywood to call when they are upset with the media. That can mean anything from negotiating with the National Enquirer to get an interview with Bill Cosby so they don’t write about his lecherous, predatory behavior, to suing a tabloid when they say that an actor has a drug problem. It can mean anything in that range. But it is interesting that he took on this client. I think it’s cool that he took on this client.”
Singer didn’t return a phone call by deadline.