Last week, CNN published an investigative report detailing sexual harassment accusations (from at least eight women) against Morgan Freeman. The piece had been in the works months before the Weinstein allegations began and was prompted by an encounter between Freeman and co-author Chloe Melas, who alleged that he made inappropriate comments toward her during a press junket. Melas and fellow author An Phung then compiled accounts from others who said they experienced similar treatment from Freeman, whose lawyer is now demanding that CNN retract its report.
The Hollywood Reporter has obtained a letter from Freeman’s legal firm (Irell & Manella LLP) to CNN President Jeff Zucker. The 10-page document alleges that the cable news network has defamed Freeman and caused harm to his career, and here’s the most relevant portion:
“It is clear that CNN has defamed Mr. Freeman. 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 article] was the product of malicious intent, falsehoods, slight-of-hand, an absence of editorial control, and journalistic malpractice.”
The letter further accuses Melas of “imagining” that Freeman’s statements were meant to harass her, although she recorded him saying, “Boy, do I wish I was there,” a sentiment that he reportedly repeated while visually scanning her body and also stating, “You are ripe.” In addition, the investigative report gathers up accounts from several other women who accused Freeman of commenting upon their bodies on film sets, and one source claimed that Alan Arkin had witnessed Freeman trying to lift up a woman’s skirt and told him to stop.
The fallout over the report is still ongoing. The Screen Actors Guild is evaluating whether or not to take “corrective actions” regarding the Lifetime Achievement Award he received from the organization in 2018. In addition, Freeman’s new gig as the voice of Vancouver’s public transit system has been nipped in the bud following CNN’s piece, for TransLink decided it was a bad look to have Freeman’s voice warning commuters against smoking on trains. Visa has also suspended all ads starring the ubiquitous actor asking, “What’s in your wallet?”
Meanwhile, Freeman has denied the allegations of inappropriate behavior while stating that he’s devastated and adding, “It is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humor.” ET does report a more apologetic statement from Freeman:
“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.”
UPDATE #1 – 1:15pm EST: CNN has issued an initial statement regarding the letter from Freeman’s lawyer:
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.