The actor and Madam Secretary executive producer is looking into legal action against CNN, which on May 24 published a report of Freeman’s alleged harassment of eight women. The behavior reportedly included unwanted touching and offensive public comments about women’s clothing or bodies.
A letter Freeman’s attorneys sent to the cable news network Monday characterized the story, reported by CNN’s Chloe Melas and An Phung, as “journalistic malpractice” that included “falsehoods” and “malicious intent.”
The letter calls for CNN to retract the story and issue a public apology to Freeman, who has lost work — including his role as the voice of Visa — as a result of the allegations.
Among other criticisms, the letter alleges that Melas, who also was a source in the story after encountering what she described as “inappropriate behavior” on Freeman’s part during a press junket for his film Going in Style, misinterpreted Freeman’s comment about a story told by co-star Michael Caine. In the CNN story, Melas said that Morgan said “I wish I was there” in regard to her then-six-months-pregnant body. Freeman’s lawyers say the comment was directed at an anecdote Caine had just shared, not at Melas. (Melas maintains that Freeman also said she was “ripe,” and that the observations made her so uncomfortable that she reported them to her supervisors and CNN’s human resources department.)
A CNN spokesperson issued the following statement to TVLine:
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.
The New York Times‘ Sopan Deb tweeted Freeman’s lawyers’ letter Tuesday; you can read it in its entirety here.
UPDATE: CNN formally responded to Freeman’s lawyers on May 31, calling their demand for a retraction “rife with empty speculation, overheated rhetoric and in some instances plainly false assertions,” per The Hollywood Reporter.
The network went on to criticize the idea that Melas misinterpreted Freeman’s comment about her pregnant body: “Rather than identify any specific aspects of the CNN report as false or wrong, you engage in a lengthy and baseless ad hominem attack on one of the women who reported the story.”
Soon after CNN’s story was published on May 24, Freeman issued a statement saying, “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.”
Then, on May 26, he released a second statement in which he said he was “devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye, by Thursday’s media reports” and that “it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humor.”