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In a new depiction of the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta and its aftermath, a newspaper reporter from the time is once again portrayed in a controversial light.
The second season of “Manhunt: Deadly Games'' takes on the saga of Eric Rudolph and Richard Jewell. Rudolph constructed a pipe bomb and placed it in the usually crowded Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on July 27, 1996, aiming to do maximum damage. Jewell, working as a security guard during the Games, discovered the suspicious package, and initiated an evacuation. The device detonated, killing one person and injuring 111 others, though the toll would have been far higher if not for Jewell's vigilance. Still, Jewell was quickly viewed with suspicion by authorities and, once his status as suspect was reported in the media, his reputation was ripped apart. Though he was ultimately exonerated, the ordeal unalterably damaged his life.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs was the first to break the news that Jewell was being looked at as a possible suspect by the FBI, which kicked off a media firestorm with Jewell at the center. Scruggs was a driven reporter who worked briefly at two other newspapers — the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Independent Mail — before getting hired by the AJC. She worked there for years, and was known for being lively, bright and a bit gruff, before breaking the Jewell piece. Ron Martz, a former fellow AJC reporter, remembers her as "really tough and hard-nosed" in a 2019 AJC piece.
“When she went after a story she did what was necessary to get the story, within legal and ethical bounds," he said.
Scruggs' former roommate and lawyer Penny Furr told Oxygen.com that Scruggs was in a “difficult career for women.”
“She wasn’t a real sweet type,” she said. “What you saw was what you got. She did not try to change her personality for anyone. She could be aggressive but she felt she had to be successful.”
While colleagues and friends described her as ambitious yet fundamentally ethical, the 2019 film “Richard Jewell,” portrays Scruggs as willing to do anything to get a story. In it, her character appears to offer sex to an FBI agent in exchange for information about the case. That depiction was widely criticized. Kevin Riley, the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, called it "the worst kind of trope," NBC News reported in 2019. While she was criticized for her role in the defamation of Jewell, former friends and law enforcement felt that she had become a scapegoat for broader editorial decisions at the paper, Atlanta Magazine reported in 2003.
"Manhunt: Deadly Games” continues the controversial portrayal of Scruggs. While they don’t depict her trading sex for tips, there are other questionable scenes. The series shows Scruggs, played by Carla Gugino, partying with crooked police officers. In one scene, she is doing cocaine with a cop at her home. In another, she’s injecting drugs confiscated at a crime scene and given to her by an officer at a club.
Furr, who was also critical of the "Richard Jewell" movie, told Oxygen.com that Scruggs didn’t do recreational drugs.
“I didn’t like that,” she said of the scene showing Scruggs doing cocaine with a police officer in the new series. “That didn’t happen. Kathy didn’t do coke. She did drink but I never saw her do any sort of cocaine or anything.”
She said that Scruggs once dated a detective, years before they lived together. However, she said Scruggs would have never brought police officers in to party with her.
The two roommates lived together from 1995 to 1997. They became friends a few years earlier when Furr was working on a murder case as a defense attorney, a case Scruggs was covering for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 2003 Atlanta Magazine article, like the new series, also claims that the reporter dated cops.
“Did Kathy go drinking with the cops?” Yes,” Furr told Oxygen.com. “She did it because she felt she had to be one of the guys or they didn’t trust her to give her information. So she did socialize with them, there’s no doubt about that, but the guys didn’t come to the house. There were no police officers coming to our apartment.”
Furr said that Scruggs did later take pain killers that were prescribed to her, “but that was because she was in pain.”
Scruggs suffered a fatal overdose of prescription pain pills taken for chronic back pain in 2001, according to Poynter. She was 42.
Furr told Oxygen.com that Scruggs was diagnosed with bipolar disorder following the Jewell story. She said her friend also had Krohn’s disease later in life. She also attributed Scruggs' early death, at least partly, to the fallout from initial coverage of Jewell story. Furr remembers Scruggs as assertive and ambitious, but also a person with integrity.
“Kathy would never intentionally go after an innocent person,” she said. “She was reporting what she was being told by law enforcement. ”
A spokesperson for "Manhunt: Deadly Games" did not respond to Oxygen.com's request for comment.
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