Morgan Freeman is not taking these sexual harassment allegations lightly. A lawyer representing the 80-year-old Oscar-winner is demanding that CNN issue a retraction for its report accusing Freeman of inappropriate behavior, but CNN is not backing down.
CNN had carried a report on May 24 about several women who said they were sexually harassed by the 80-year-old on movie sets and during interviews.
According to a report by Deadline, Freeman's attorney, Robert M. Schwartz of Irell & Manella, has emailed a 10-page letter to CNN chief Jeff Zucker, claiming that the network “defamed Mr. Freeman,” implying that this might escalate to a lawsuit.
“CNN has inflicted serious injury on his reputation and career,” the letter states. “At a minimum, CNN immediately needs to issue a retraction and apologized to Mr. Freeman through the same channels, and with the same level of attention, that is used to unjustly attack him.”
The attorney’s letter alleges that the report has already had “devastating consequences” for the Shawshank Redemption actor.
“Mr. Freeman is being viewed in the global court of public opinion as someone akin to notorious harassers and accused rapists, such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey,” the letter reads.
“CNN had no justification for doing that.”
It also notes those who work with Freeman have felt the need to distance themselves, further damaging the Shawshank Redemption star's image.
“The damage CNN has inflicted is real. And given Mr. Freeman’s career and many motion picture and television commitments, it is substantial,” the letter continues. “If CNN has any decency or any allegiance to journalistic integrity, it will immediate [sic] retract the article and issue a public apology to Mr. Freeman.”
In the CNN report, multiple women accused Freeman of subjecting them to harassment or inappropriate behavior on set -- including “unwanted touching” -- while promoting his movies and at his production company Revelations Entertainment.
The outlet also interviewed eight alleged witnesses who described a concerning pattern of behavior by Freeman on set and during promotional campaigns.
One production assistant said she was subjected to unwanted touching and comments about her figure and clothing on a nearly daily basis, including one incident in which the 80-year-old actor allegedly “kept trying to lift up my skirt” while inquiring if she was wearing underwear.
CNN also reported that three entertainment writers recounted inappropriate remarks made to them during press junkets.
For his part, Freeman has denied the allegations and apologized (twice) to anyone he inadvertently made feel uncomfortable. In his latest statement made on Friday (May 25), the Oscar-winning actor said:
“I admit that I am someone who feels a need to try to make women — and men — feel appreciated and at ease around me. As part of that, I would often try to joke with and compliment women, in what I thought was a light-hearted and humorous way. Clearly, I was not always coming across the way I intended. And that is why I apologized Thursday and will continue to apologize to anyone I might have upset, however unintentionally.
“But I also want to be clear: I did not create unsafe work environments,” he concluded.
“I did not assault women. I did not offer employment or advancement in exchange for sex. Any suggestion that I did so is completely false.”
One of the entertainment writers who says she was harassed by Freeman at a junket is CNN’s Chloe Melas.
Defending Freeman in the letter, the actor’s attorney claims Melas “had no reasonable basis to have interpreted what Mr. Freeman said or did at the Going In Style interview last year as having been directed at her or as any form of harassment. The videotape confirms that his statement had nothing to do with her and was not harassing.”
In addition to disputing the harassment allegations, Schwartz questions CNN’s “journalistic integrity” in allowing Melas to work on the harassment story. “Under bedrock principles of journalistic integrity, CNN should not have allowed Ms. Melas to work on the story,” he writes.
“As a supposed victim of the article’s subject, Ms. Melas lacked the requisite impartiality and objectivity to fairly cover the story she was chasing. Under those circumstances, CNN should not have allowed her to write it.”
Meanwhile, CNN has rebutted Morgan Freeman’s demand for a retraction, saying it stands by its report and clearly has no intentions of backing down.
“The unfounded accusations made by Mr. Freeman’s lawyer are disappointing and are difficult to reconcile with Mr. Freeman’s own public statements in the aftermath of the story,” the cable news network said in a statement issued Tuesday (May 29) afternoon.
“CNN stands by its reporting and will respond forcefully to any attempt by Mr. Freeman or his representatives to intimidate us from covering this important public issue,” the network added.