Morgan Freeman’s lawyer has demanded a retraction and apology from CNN over its story last week accusing the actor of “unwanted touching” and sexual harassment.
In a 10-page letter sent directly to CNN President Jeff Zucker on Tuesday and obtained by TheWrap, Freeman’s attorney accused the cable news channel of defaming their client.
“It is clear that CNN has defamed Mr. Freeman,” one of the most damning paragraphs reads. “CNN has inflicted serious injury on his 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.”
The law firm of Irell & Manella LLP also says the Time Warner-owned news network and its website demonstrated “malicious intent, falsehoods, slight-of-hand, an absence of editorial control, and journalistic malpractice” with this particular story.
The piece, which was written in part as a firsthand recollection by CNN reporter Chloe Melas, was “based on her imagining that Mr. Freeman had said or done anything to harass her,” Freeman’s lawyers argued. In the story, Melas recalled a “Going in Style” press junket from 2017, during which she believes Freeman made suggestive comments toward her.
Here is what Freeman’s side says happened during that same moment in the media tour:
It is correct that, during the interview, Mr. Freeman said, “I wish I was there.” But Ms. Melas had no factual basis to have interpreted that as a statement about her, or as sexual harassment. The videotape makes clear that Mr. Freeman was in fact responding to a story that Michael Caine had just told. In that story, Mr. Caine had congratulated a woman on becoming pregnant, only to learn to Mr. Caine’s (and the woman’s) embarrassment that she was not pregnant. When Mr. Freeman said “I wish I was there,” any reasonable viewer would have known that the “there” to which he was referring was the conversation in which Mr. Freeman’s friend, Mr. Caine, had embarrassed himself. That is exactly what Mr. Freeman intended.
“Despite what should have been clear to Ms. Melas, she chose to interpret Michael Caine’s anecdote, and Mr. Freeman’s remark about it, as having something to do with her and as harassment,” the letter continued. “One cannot know if that was the product of something as innocuous as Ms. Melas’ having misheard what Mr. Freeman said, her runaway self-centeredness, or her search for a sexual harassment perpetrator to ‘expose’ so that she could grab attention and advance her career.”
The note also hints that that racism may have played a role here. Focus on the last sentence of this excerpt:
Despite what should have been clear to Ms. Melas, she chose to interpret Michael Caine’s anecdote, and Mr. Freeman’s remark about it, as having something to do with her and as harassment. One cannot know if that was the product of something as innocuous as Ms. Melas’ having misheard what Mr. Freeman said, her runaway self-centeredness, or her search for a sexual harassment perpetrator to “expose” so that she could grab attention and advance her career. One also has to ask whether Ms. Melas would have had the same unjustified overreaction if the remark had come from Michael Caine or Alan Arkin.
As alluded to above, Freeman’s lawyers, like some media pundits, do not believe Melas should have been allowed to write what was presented as a reported story based on her own experience.
“If CNN were committed to impartial reporting about Mr. Freeman, on a topic of extreme sensitivity and with the potential to destroy him, CNN should not have allowed that breakdown to occur,” they continued. “But CNN did.”
The network responded in a statement blasting Freeman’s lawyers for “unfounded accusations” that “are disappointing and are difficult to reconcile with Mr. Freeman’s own public statements in the aftermath of the story” — an apparent reference to the public apology the actor issued last week “to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected” while also denying any accusation of assault.
“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.