Morgan Freeman's Lawyer Demands CNN Retract Sexual Harassment Story
The actor had issued two statements in response to the report. On Tuesday, CNN stood by its reporting.
Morgan Freeman's lawyer has asked CNN to retract its report about sexual misconduct allegations against the actor.
The 10-page legal letter, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter (below), is addressed to Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, and claims the story has defamed and "inflicted serious injury" on Freeman's reputation and career.
"At a minimum, CNN immediately needs to issue a retraction and apologize to Mr. Freeman through the same channels, and with the same level of attention, that it used to unjustly attack him on May 24," reads the letter from attorney Robert M. Schwartz. "CNN also needs to retract the portions of the story that concern Lori McCreary and apologize to her for defaming and injuring her."
Freeman's lawyer said they have begun an investigation into the story and shared some of the findings of their review:
Of the three people CNN identified as being a "victim," the first, CNN’s own Chloe 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. And an independent third party, the Warner Bros. Human Resources Department, investigated her claim and concluded that it was not supported by the facts.
The second person CNN identified, Tyra Martin, has gone on record twice since CNN published the article to state that CNN misrepresented what she said to CNN and that Mr. Freeman did not harass her.
The third person CNN identified, Lori McCreary, told CNN that Mr. Freeman never harassed her. And as to CNN’s gratuitous sideswipe at Ms. McCreary herself, yet another independent party investigated the claim when CNN raised it, and found it to be meritless.
Ms. Melas baited and prodded supposed “witnesses” to say bad things about Mr. Freeman and tried to get them to confirm her bias against him. Thus, no reader of the article can have any confidence that any of the anonymous sources, which make up the balance of CNN’s article, can be relied upon at all.
In response to the letter, a CNN spokesperson said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: "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. 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."
In a follow-up statement to THR, Schwartz added: "We presented CNN with objective evidence, including videotapes and on-the-record denials by the claimed 'victims,' that the alleged incident that gave rise to the story never happened. We proved to CNN, beyond any doubt, that the whole story was built on fakery. The credibility of the entire CNN attack on Mr. Freeman has now been undermined. And in choosing to ignore all of the evidence that we presented, CNN has confirmed our concerns about its reporters, its lack of oversight, and its gross misconduct in unjustifiably attacking Mr. Freeman."
In the May 24 CNN report, eight women accused Freeman of sexual misconduct, describing multiple incidents of the actor's alleged inappropriate behavior throughout his career. In all, 16 people spoke to the news outlet as part of the investigation; eight witnesses and eight who claim to be victims. CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas — who co-authored the article with An Phung — was the only victim who spoke on the record.
As previosuly reported by THR, Freeman's Revelations co-founder McCreary was on the receiving end of controversial commentary by Freeman during a 2016 Produced By panel, when the actor commented about McCreary's outfit. "She wants to be thought of as serious," he said in front of McCreary on the panel. "But you can't get away from the short dresses."
At the time, THR's reporter observed that McCreary "did not visibly react to the comment," but a former Revelations executive told CNN in the report that McCreary was upset. "I tried to console her and she was clearly upset, and I think she was surprised and found it hurtful and embarrassing," the person said. "She was devastated."
Freeman released two statements in the wake of allegations that he harassed female journalists and staffers at his production company. Consequences were swift after the report; Vancouver's public transporation system and Visa dropped marketing campaigns with the actor, while SAG-AFTRA said it was reconsidering the actor's Lifetime Achievement Award. Entertainment Tonight also resurfaced video of the actor questioning his behavior.
"Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent," Freeman said in his initial statement Thursday.
Over the weekend, the actor apologized and issued the below lengthier reply:
I am devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye, by Thursday’s media reports.
All victims of assault and harassment deserve to be heard. And we need to listen to them. But it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humor.
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 a 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. 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.
Read the full letter from Freeman's lawyer below.
May 29, 9:20 a.m. Updated with CNN statement.
11 a.m. Updated with statement from Morgan Freeman attorney Robert Schwartz.