Morgan Freeman's lawyer on Tuesday demanded an immediate retraction and apology from CNN, which reported that the Academy Award-winning actor has been accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual comments on movie sets, during promotional activities and at his Los Angeles production company.
The accusations by eight people claiming inappropriate behavior by the 80-year-old actor were reported last Thursday by CNN, which issued a statement saying that it stands by its reporting and would not back down.
"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," the network's statement says. "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."
One of Freeman's accusers is CNN reporter Chloe Melas, who said she interviewed Freeman when he was promoting the comedy "Going in Style" in 2017. Melas, who was then six months pregnant, said she was subjected to suggestive comments by Freeman about how he wished he was there when she got pregnant.
In Tuesday's letter to CNN chief Jeff Zucker, Freeman's Los Angeles attorney, Robert M. Schwartz, contends that Melas "had no reasonable basis" to have interpreted Freeman's remark during the interview "as having been directed at her or as any form of harassment." He said video of the interview clearly shows that Freeman's comment was in response to a story that "Going in Style" co-star Michael Caine had just told.
The attorney wrote that the videotape of the interview "confirms that his statement had nothing to do with her and was not harassing. And an independent third party, the Warner Bros. Human Resources Department, investigated her claim and concluded that it was not supported by the facts."
Schwartz also contends in the letter that two other alleged victims named in the CNN story have publicly denied being harassed by Freeman.
Following CNN's statement standing by the story, Schwartz responded by saying the "credibility of the entire CNN attack on Mr. Freeman has now been underminded. 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."
After the CNN story appeared last Thursday, Freeman issued an apology for saying anything that may have been misinterpreted. He also issued a second statement last Friday.
"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," the actor said.
A young production assistant who worked on the "Going in Style" film shoot in 2015 says she was subjected to unwanted touching and near-daily comments about her body. She also alleged that Freeman "kept trying to lift up my skirt and asking if I was wearing underwear." The woman says Freeman only stopped when co-star Alan Arkin told him to.
Four others who worked on movie sets with Freeman over the last 10 years told CNN that he repeatedly made women feel uncomfortable at work.
According to CNN's report, seven people described inappropriate behavior by Freeman at his Revelations Entertainment, with one incident allegedly witnessed by Lori McCreary, who co-founded the company with Freeman.
Schwartz contends in his letter that allegation is "flat out wrong."
The network also said that reporters spoke with dozens of other people who worked for or with Freeman and said they never witnessed any questionable behavior.
In his letter to Zucker, Schwartz demands that CNN retract its story accusing the actor of sexual harassment, calling it the result of a "year-long witch hunt" against the actor has caused damage to his reputation and career.
"It has been said that 'A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on,'" the lawyer wrote. "In just the few days since CNN published the article on Mr. Freeman, it has traveled all the way around the world and back, millions of times. If CNN has any decency, or any allegiance to journalistic integrity, it will immediate retract the article and issue a public apology to Mr. Freeman."
Since the publication of the story, Freeman reportedly has had campaigns for Visa, including a bit as the voice of Vancouver Transit, suspended pending investigation.