An attorney for actor Morgan Freeman is asking CNN for a retraction and an apology for what the lawyer calls "malicious intent, falsehoods, sleight-of-hand, an absence of editorial control, and journalistic malpractice" in the network's report Thursday accusing the Academy Award-winner of a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward women.
CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas, describing what she called suggestive language toward her at a press event for the 2017 movie "Going in Style," co-wrote a CNN.com article saying 16 people, all but one unnamed, alleged they either received or witnessed harassment or inappropriate behavior by Freeman through the years.
Freeman, who turns 81 on Friday, apologized last Thursday "to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected -- that was never my intent." A day later, he issued an extended statement saying his "light-hearted and humorous" comments were "not always coming across the way I intended."
In a 10-page letter Tuesday to CNN president Jeff Zucker, attorney Robert M. Schwartz said that under journalistic ethics, Melas, as the accuser, "lacked the requisite impartiality and objectivity to fairly cover the story she was chasing. Under those circumstances, CNN should not have allowed her to write it."
The letter quotes Leslie Wayne, a former business reporter at The New York Times, who told TheWrap.com that "a reporter writing about an alleged event involving himself or herself would not be permitted" at that newspaper. TheWrap additionally quoted The Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan calling the CNN decision "unorthodox" but workable with transparency.
The letter said a video clip CNN has aired from the junket showing a Freeman comment that Melas said was directed at her -- "Boy, do I wish I was there" — had been instead in response to an anecdote co-star Michael Caine had just related about himself. Among additional points, the letter noted that WGN-TV entertainment producer Tyra Martin, the one source the article quoted by name, told TMZ.com on Saturday, "CNN totally misrepresented the video and took my remarks out of context."
A CNN spokeswoman told Newsday in a statement, "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."
Freman's attorney, responded to CNN's response with this statement: "We presented CNN with objective evidence, including videotapes and on-the-record denials by the claimed 'victims,' ” that the alleged incident that gave rise to the story never happened. We proved to CNN, beyond any doubt, that the whole story was built on fakery. The credibility of the entire CNN attack on Mr. Freeman has now been undermined. And in choosing to ignore all of the evidence that we presented, CNN has confirmed our concerns about its reporters, its lack of oversight, and its gross misconduct in unjustifiably attacking Mr. Freeman.”
Melas, 31, has not commented on social media about the letter.