Morgan Freeman’s Comments to CNN Reporter Chloe Melas Led to Her Report on Harassment Accusations

CNN calls the story “investigative journalism at its finest”

Reporters generally try to not to become involved in the stories they cover. But CNN said reporter Chloe Melas’ experience with Morgan Freeman led directly to her investigation into his behavior with women.

Melas said that during a junket for his 2017 film “Going in Style,” when she was six months pregnant, Freeman shook and held onto her hand, looking her up and down and saying variations of the words “I wish I was there.” (He was caught on camera saying “Boy, I wish I was there” while sitting a few feet from her.) Melas said Freeman also told her, “You are ripe.”

Melas and co-author An Phung broke the news Thursday that several woman have accused Freeman of harassment. He quickly apologized, saying it was “never my intent” for anyone to feel uncomfortable or disrespected.

“Chloe’s exchange, part of which was captured on tape, made her wonder if Mr. Freeman’s comments were an isolated incident or part of a bigger story, which she then began reporting,” a network representative told TheWrap.

The decision to employ Melas as both reporter and witness raised eyebrows among some journalism traditionalists, who strive to avoid any hint of potential conflicts of interest. But CNN said Melas’ reporting was completely appropriate, and conducted in coordination with others.

“Her efforts were supported by a robust editorial team, as well as her co-author An Phung, and together they carefully reported this story out over many months. Per CNN standards, it was rigorously vetted by senior editors throughout the process. Their piece is an example of investigative journalism at its finest.”

Margaret Sullivan, a former New York Times public editor and current Media Columnist for the Washington Post called the CNN decision “unorthodox,” but noted that it “can work” if news organizations are transparent about it.

“An editor’s note at the top of the story would have been a useful extra step in helping the reader understand the unusual situation,” she told TheWrap.

Bill Grueskin, a former Managing Editor of the Wall Street and current Columbia Journalism professor agreed with Sullivan, saying an editor’s note would have been the way to go, or that Melas could have written a first-person account.

“Journalists don’t often report on stories where they have personal involvement,” he told TheWrap. “CNN could have had Melas write a first-person account of her interaction with Freeman, and then a colleague could have reported out allegations involving other women.”

Leslie Wayne, a former business reporter at the New York Times, said the situation “would not be allowed” at the newspaper.

“Having a reporter writing about an alleged event involving himself or herself would not be permitted,” Wayne said.

The decision to include Melas in the primary reporting may have been unorthodox, but it has precedent.

Last November, Vox published a piece by Laura McGann about sexual misconduct accusations against New York Times writer Glenn Thrush. She said that she had worked with him at Politico, and that he had behaved inappropriately at a bar five years ago.

“I was wearing a skirt, and he put his hand on my thigh. He started kissing me. I pulled myself together and got out of there, shoving him on my way out,” she wrote.

The allegations resulted in a lengthy suspension for Thrush from the Times and eventually his removal from the White House beat.

The decisions by outlets like CNN and Vox had their defenders, particularly from outside legacy media outlets.

Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of Gawker who now runs her own political consulting firm, said many old conventions were “upended decades ago with the rise of new journalism.” She said CNN and Melas were able to report a better story because of her experience with Freeman.

“Unless there’s some reason why the journo-who-is-also-a-source loses credibility as source by also being a reporter on the story, or vice versa. But I don’t see that here,” Spiers told TheWrap. “She was probably able to make some of the other women more comfortable about talking to her because she could sympathize with their experience.”