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Clint Eastwood’s ‘Richard Jewell’ Is at the Center of a Media Storm

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ATLANTA — Clint Eastwood received a standing ovation on Tuesday when he was introduced by the Georgia House speaker, David Ralston, for the red-carpet premiere of “Richard Jewell” at the Rialto Center for the Arts in downtown Atlanta. The audience broke into applause again at the climax of the fact-based film Mr. Eastwood directed about the security guard who was suspected by the F.B.I. of planting a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

The reaction was a contrast to how the film was received Wednesday at a screening arranged by Cox Enterprises, the owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, at a theater near the newspaper’s headquarters. During a scene in which a Journal-Constitution reporter is shown offering sex to an F.B.I. agent in exchange for information — a scene the paper has called “false and defamatory” — an audience member hissed.

The film shows Kathy Scruggs, a law enforcement reporter, sidling up to the F.B.I. agent at a bar days after a pipe bomb packed with nails had exploded at Centennial Olympic Park in the city’s downtown area, causing two deaths and injuring 111 people. “Give me something I can print,” says Ms. Scruggs, who is played by Olivia Wilde.

The agent is played by Jon Hamm. Using crude language, he implies that he would not give her the name of the leading suspect in the bombing even if she were to have sex with him. After the reporter’s hand climbs up his thigh, he relents, saying the F.B.I. was looking into Mr. Jewell, a man who had been hailed as a hero in news reports for his discovery of the bomb, a heads-up move that led to the clearing of the park, greatly limiting casualties.

The movie, which is being released on Friday, depicts the reporter as grateful for this piece of information. “Want to get a room, or just go to my car?” she asks.

“For a film that purports to be about the besmirching of someone’s reputation to proceed to smear Ms. Scruggs and the paper she reported for in this manner is highly offensive,” said the letter, which was also signed by Cox Enterprises, the owner of the newspaper and one of the country’s largest cable companies. Cox hired the litigator Martin D. Singer, known for his work on behalf of celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Bill Cosby, to represent the paper.

Warner Bros. fired back with a statement that said, “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.”

Weeks before the film’s release, The Journal-Constitution published an article headlined “The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs.” It described a “hard-charging” police reporter who used “salty language,” wore “short skirts” and did not leave crime scenes “until her notebook was full.” The article also said the film version of Ms. Scruggs “veers from reality, according to people who knew and worked with her, in suggesting she landed scoops by offering to sleep with sources.”

The film’s bar scene has turned a cinematic examination of privacy, due process and the excesses of the news media into a target for critics who have called it the latest example of Hollywood’s sexist take on women in journalism. The trope of female reporters sleeping with sources or story subjects has appeared in the HBO limited series “Sharp Objects,” the Netflix show “House of Cards” and the movie “Thank You for Smoking,” among other productions.

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Trump takes flak from Dems after proposing $2.5B to fight Coronavirus

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Democrats slam White House’s ‘dangerous incompetence’ on coronavirus response; reaction and analysis on ‘Outnumbered.’ #FoxNews

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Here’s how to appeal higher Medicare premiums

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The annual income of older Americans could drop significantly from one year to the next for a variety of reasons. It might be retirement or the death of a spouse, perhaps, or the sale of a business.

Yet it might take Medicare — which charges higher earners more for premiums — a couple years to adjust when income falls below the threshold.

If you’re paying more than the standard amounts for Medicare Part B (outpatient services) and Part D (prescription drugs) through so-called income-related monthly adjustment amounts, or IRMAAs, the difference can reach into the hundreds of dollars per month. And, the surcharge is often based on your tax return from two years prior — which may not accurately reflect your current financial situation.

“We see it all the time,” said Danielle Roberts, co-founder of insurance firm Boomer Benefits in Fort Worth, Texas. “They end up having to contact Social Security and show they’re not earning that amount anymore.”

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Of Medicare’s 62 million beneficiaries, about 7% — 4.3 million people — pay those monthly surcharges, due to various legislative changes over the years that have required higher-earners to pay a greater share of the program’s costs.

For individuals, IRMAAs kick in if your modified adjusted gross income is more than $87,000; for married couples filing joint tax returns, they start above $174,000.

The standard monthly premium for Part B this year is $144.60, which is what most Medicare beneficiaries pay. (Part A, which is for hospital coverage, typically comes with no premium.) The surcharge for higher earners is from $57.80 to $347, depending on income. That results in premiums ranging from $202.40 to $491.60.

For Part D, the surcharges range from $12.20 to $76.40. That’s in addition to any premium you pay, whether through a standalone prescription drug plan or through an Advantage Plan, which typically includes Part D coverage. While the premiums vary for prescription coverage, the average for 2020 is about $42.

As mentioned, the Social Security Administration relies on your most recently filed tax return — which often is from two years prior — when determining whether you’ll be charged the extra amounts. In other words, for 2020, that would have meant your 2018 tax return was used.

“They did the adjustment late last year and, at that point, they only had your 2018 tax return because you hadn’t prepared your 2019 return yet,” explained Roger Luchene, a Medicare agent with Hammer Financial Group in Schererville, Indiana.

The process to prove that your current income is lower involves asking the agency (either over the phone or in writing) to reconsider their assessment. You also have to fill out a form and provide supporting documents. While it depends on your situation, suitable proof may include a more recent tax return, a letter from your former employer stating that you retired, more recent pay stubs or something similar showing evidence that your income has dropped.

The required form includes a list of “life-changing” events that qualify as reasons for reducing or eliminating the IRMAAs, including marriage, death of a spouse, divorce, loss of pension or the fact that you stopped working or reduced your hours.

As long as you meet one of the qualifying reasons, “most of the time it gets adjusted,” said Elizabeth Gavino, founder of Lewin & Gavino in New York and an independent broker and general agent for Medicare plans.

If it doesn’t, you can appeal the decision to an administrative law judge, although the process could take time and you’d continue paying those surcharges in the meantime, Roberts said.

Additionally, the SSA reevaluates your situation every year, which means the IRMAAs (or whether you pay them) could change annually, depending on how volatile your income is.

Roberts said she’s seen some Medicare beneficiaries who take no medications simply decide to not sign up for coverage, in order to avoid paying so much for a Part D plan that they think they’ll never use.

Be aware, however, that the decision could leave you financially vulnerable if your long-term health unexpectedly changes or a one-time health event requires prescription drugs. You also could face late-enrollment penalties, as well, if you don’t qualify for an exception. (The same goes for enrolling late in Part B.)

“You’d be caught without coverage and have to pay out of pocket,” Roberts said. “And, you’d have to wait until the next [enrollment] period to get into a plan.”

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Subscription Companies Make Quitting Easier

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Companies that sell subscriptions to products—everything from razors and high-fashion clothing to pet products and meal kits—are locked in fierce competition.

To make their wares more appealing to customers, some companies are executing a counterintuitive twist on that strategy: They are making it easy to quit.

ClassPass Inc., which has a monthly subscription service that gives users access to exercise classes at a variety of gyms and studios, is phasing out a live-chat feature that customers have had to contend with when they cancel.

The chat was partly designed to encourage customers to find a better plan that they might not have been aware of before signing off for good, according to

Lauren Cowher

Hill, director of global customer experience at ClassPass.

But the company is rolling out technology to automate its cancellation process, Ms. Cowher Hill said, with the goal of making it available to all global consumers in the coming months.

“We know the ability to pause or make changes to a membership is something our members deeply value,” Ms. Cowher Hill said. “And this isn’t just true for ClassPass. Globally, there is a growing desire for a frictionless cancellation flow, especially for subscription services, and we’re proud to be making strides to deliver that.”

ClassPass is using what it learned from the live chat process to inform its automated cancellation system, she said.

Many companies have used onerous policies and processes to keep customers past trial periods and discourage them from canceling later, according to Robbie Kellman Baxter, a consultant specializing in membership models and subscription pricing and author of a forthcoming book, “The Forever Transaction: How to Build a Subscription Model So Compelling, Your Customers Will Never Want to Leave.” But that isn’t a winning long-term strategy, she said.

“If you’re trying to have a long-term relationship with your customer and you’re kind of sneaky with the terms, you’re not going to be generating trust,” Ms. Baxter said.

Some companies have also been called out for difficult cancellation rules.

Rent the Runway subscribers can now pause or cancel memberships by sending a single email.



Photo:

Shannon stapleton/Reuters

The Honest Co., a consumer-goods company co-founded by actress

Jessica Alba,

was criticized in 2016 for making subscribers call on the phone before they could cancel. It changed its policy that December to allow cancellation online.

Last year, Rent the Runway began letting subscribers to its fashion service immediately pause or cancel memberships by sending a single email. It previously required members to call or email a “Membership Concierge,” which had drawn complaints for sometimes replying slowly.

The company made the change to make things easier for members, but a representative noted another benefit as well: It lightened inbound calls to the customer service team.

Easy cancellation policies could actually help businesses lure in more subscribers and encourage more customers to come back if they have left, said Peter Fader, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Such policies, he says, make the subscription experience more personal by making customers feel fairly treated.

That could help the subscription companies’ broader efforts to make recurring shipments and automatic charges feel less transactional and more like membership in a club.

Harry’s Inc., the subscription razor service that also sells products in retail stores, last May launched what it describes as a “core membership” program that costs $15 a year, giving customers discounts when they shop online as well as free engravings and access to limited-edition products. It started the program because customer feedback indicated a desire for specialized services, according to

Kalpana Ganti,

head of digital product at Harry’s.

Harry’s says it has converted 57% of subscribers of its basic monthly plan to a new “core” membership program.



Photo:

Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

The company has converted 57% of subscribers to its basic monthly plan to the new membership program, Ms. Ganti said.

Harry’s said customers can cancel either through Harrys.com—by clicking a button on their profile—or by getting in touch with the customer support team via phone or email.

Personalized services and other membership touches help companies connect with customers who are increasingly subscribing instead of making individual purchases, said

Tien Tzuo,

founder and CEO of Zuora Inc., a provider of software for subscription companies. Companies that offer membership services are trying to project a broader lifestyle that will appeal to customers and add value beyond the product itself, Mr. Tzuo said.

Brightly marked, easy exits could become an essential feature of membership models, according to

Greg Alvo,

founder and CEO of the subscription software company OrderGroove Inc. His company’s clients include

GNC Holdings Inc.,

which upgraded its interface last May to make it easier for customers to modify or cancel their subscriptions.

Making quitting simple could even become the law. A 2018 California regulation began requiring companies that let consumers subscribe online to also let them opt out online. “We think this is a precursor to more consumer protections to come,” said

Guy Marion,

chief executive officer and co-founder at Brightback Inc., which offers automated customer retention software for subscription companies.

“Subscription businesses are in the midst of exploring how to best transition their cancel experiences online, reflecting both the shifting consumer expectation and new regulatory requirements,” Mr. Marion said.

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