In late May, CNN reported “Women accuse Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behavior, harassment.” Freeman’s attorney, Robert Schwartz, wants CNN to take it back.
Schwartz provided iMediaEthics with a copy of his letter seeking a retraction and apology, but declined to comment further. “If CNN has any decency, or any allegiance to journalistic integrity, it will immediately retract the article and issue a public apology,” the letter reads.
Schwartz called the May 24 article about Freeman, an Academy Award-winning actor, “the product of malicious intent, falsehoods, sleight-of-hand, an absence of editorial control and journalistic malpractice.”
Schwartz said, based on the “early stage” of his “own investigation,” that a comment directed to one alleged victim wasn’t “harassing.” Schwartz accused Chloe Melas, the co-author of the article of having “baited and prodded supposed ‘witnesses’ to say bad things about Mr. Freeman and tried to get them to confirm her bias against him.” Schwartz’s letter argued CNN “should not have allowed Ms. Melas to work on the story” alleging a conflict of interest.
“There is substantial evidence that Ms. Melas imagined an incident, or exaggerated a non-malicious remark widely 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,” the letter from Schwartz wrote. While Melas claimed Freeman’s comment “I wish I was there” was about her, Schwartz says instead Freeman was responding to a comment made by actor Michael Caine about an interaction Caine had with another person.
In response, CNN Senior Vice President for Legal, David C. Vigilante, stood by its reporting as accurate and said Schwartz’s letter didn’t identify what exact statements in the article he claimed were libelous. “Designed for press consumption, it is rife with empty speculation, overheated rhetoric and in some instances plainly false assertions,” Vigilante’s letter to Schwartz reads. Vigilante accused Schwartz of “baseless threats aimed at scaring CNN off this important story.”
Vigilante also said that Schwartz has his own conflicts. Vigilante’s law firm, he said, “has been actively representing CNN and its affiliates in several intellectual property matters,” while Schwartz himself has been representing Warner Bros.
Vigilante flagged several elements of CNN’s reporting that wasn’t challenged, including the allegation Freeman allegedly “repeatedly tried to lift the skirt of a young production assistant,” “massaged a young intern without her consent,” or “sexualized female attendees at his 79th birthday party.”
Read Freeman’s lawyer Schwartz’s letter to CNN.
Read CNN’s response to Schwartz.