Morgan Freeman's lawyer demands CNN retract harassment article

The actor's lawyer calls the article "journalistic malpractice." CNN stands by its account.
by Variety /  / Updated 

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LOS ANGELES — A lawyer for Morgan Freeman has issued a statement demanding that CNN apologize and retract its May 24 article accusing the actor of multiple instances of sexual harassment.

In a letter to CNN president Jeff Zucker, Robert M. Schwartz, an attorney for the Oscar-winning actor, claims that the article, in which eight women accused Freeman of harassment and inappropriate behavior, was used to "unjustly attack" him. He goes on to argue that the piece suffers from "malicious intent, falsehoods, sleight-of-hand, an absence of editorial control, and journalistic malpractice."

Image: Morgan Freeman speaks during the opening ceremonies of the Invictus Game
Morgan Freeman during the opening ceremonies of the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, on May 8, 2016.Carlo Allegri / Reuters file

Schwartz claims that one of the article's authors, Chloe Melas, "baited and prodded" witnesses and victims to speak out against Freeman and was motivated by personal bias. Melas says she was harassed by the actor during a junket interview for "Going in Style" — at the time, Freeman allegedly told the pregnant reporter that she was "ripe" and commented on her body. In his letter, Schwartz says an internal investigation by Warner Bros., the film's producer, did not find any wrongdoing. Both Warner Bros. and CNN have the same corporate parent company, Time Warner.

"The problem with Ms. Melas' account, which infected everything that she and CNN thereafter did, is that her version of the interview is false," Schwartz writes. "It is based on her imagining that Mr. Freeman had said or done anything to harass her. However, there is substantial evidence that Ms. Melas imagined an incident, or exaggerated a non-malicious remark wildly out of proportion to reality, to give her a basis to go after Mr. Freeman and cause him the grave harm that CNN's story has inflicted."

A spokesman for CNN hit back at the letter in a statement, and noted that Freeman had initially apologized after the story broke.

"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 statement reads. "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."

An Phung co-wrote the story with Melas. Freeman has been a force in Hollywood for four decades, appearing in movies like "The Shawshank Redemption," "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Dark Knight."

After the report broke, Freeman apologized to anyone he may have "upset," but also denied any suggestion that he had assaulted women. The 80-year-old star has already faced professional consequences. Visa suspended a marketing campaign with the actor; the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, decided not to make Freeman the voice of its public transit system; and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists may revoke the lifetime achievement award it gave the star earlier this year.

Schwartz's letter goes on to note that Chicago WGN-TV's Tyra Martin, who is cited in the article as one of Freeman's victims, has claimed that CNN misrepresented her remarks. Melas was the only victim cited by name in the article, but CNN spoke to 16 people for the piece — eight victims and eight who corroborated their accounts.

In addition to attacking the reporting, Freeman's attorney is demanding that the network retract portions of the article concerning Freeman's producing partner Lori McCreary. The article accuses McCreary and Freeman of fostering a "toxic" work environment at their production company Revelations Entertainment, one in which women were demeaned. It also notes that McCreary was the subject of comments about her short skirts by Freeman when she appeared with the actor on a panel at 2016's Produced By conference.

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