Several women accused Morgan Freeman of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in a CNN report published Thursday, and the actor and his lawyer have responded with a series of denials and demanded a retraction.
The report detailed a "pattern of inappropriate behavior by Freeman on set, while promoting his movies and at his production company Revelations Entertainment." CNN spoke with 16 people for the piece: eight women who said they were subjected to such behavior from Freeman and eight who said they witnessed it. All of them spoke anonymously, except for CNN reporter Chloe Melas, who co-authored the piece. Melas said Freeman harassed her at a press junket, which is what prompted the investigation.
Freeman's accusers say he often made comments about women's bodies and appearances in public and would look them up and down and stare at their breasts. Two women said Freeman subjected them to unwanted touching.
On Thursday, Freeman released a statement to The Washington Post that read, "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 next day, he issued another statement in which he denied any wrongdoing.
"I am devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye, by Thursday's media reports," Freeman said, adding, "I did not create unsafe work environments. I did not assault women. I did not offer employment or advancement in exchange for sex. Any suggestion that I did so is completely false."
Then, on Tuesday, Freeman's lawyer Robert M. Schwartz released a 10-page letter addressed to CNN president Jeff Zucker that demanded the outlet retract the story.
"No one who read CNN's article about Mr. Freeman was told that it was the product of malicious intent, falsehoods, slight-of-hand, an absence of editorial control, and journalistic malpractice," the letter stated, adding that "it is clear that CNN has defamed Mr. Freeman."
"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 on May 24," the letter added.
A CNN spokesperson responded with 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. "
In addition to Melas's accusations, two other entertainment reporters also told CNN that Freeman made "inappropriate remarks" to them at press junkets.
Melas said she encountered Freeman at a press junket for the 2017 movie "Going in Style" more than a year ago. She was six months pregnant at the time. She said Freeman shook her hand and didn't let go for some time, while he looked her up and down and said, "You are ripe" along with several variations of "I wish I was there."
"Afterward, Melas reported what had happened to her supervisor, who instructed her to inform CNN human resources. According to Melas, she was told that CNN HR contacted their counterparts at human resources for Warner Bros., which produced and distributed the movie, and which like CNN is owned by Time Warner. Melas said she was also told that Warner Bros. HR could not corroborate the account because only one of Freeman's remarks was on video and the Warner Bros. employees present did not notice anything. Melas and her supervisor agreed that she would not cover the movie."
When The Post inquired about the incident, a spokesman for Warner Brothers confirmed CNN's account and had no further comment.
Furthermore, seven of the people CNN interviewed "described an environment at Revelations Entertainment that included allegations of harassment or inappropriate behavior by Freeman there." The company allegedly did not have a formal human resources department at the time.
These allegations included Freeman publicly making demeaning comments to Lori McCreary, who co-founded Revelations Entertainment with the actor.
In 2016, McCreary and Freeman appeared on a Produced By Conference panel discussion before an audience of about 400, and Freeman described their first meeting. Freeman said, "She had on a dress cut to here," later adding, "She doesn't want to be thought of as a pretty face. She wants to be thought of as serious. But you can't get away from the short dresses."
According to the Hollywood Reporter, McCreary did not visibly react to these comments.
The Post put in a request for comment to McCreary and Revelations Entertainment but did not hear back.
Freeman is one of the most prominent actors to be accused of sexual harassment during the #MeToo era. He has long been heralded by fans as a regal and almost angelic figure, portraying God in several films. He has been nominated for five Oscars, winning one for best supporting actor in 2005 for his role in "Million Dollar Baby."
The Screen Actors Guild also presented him with its coveted lifetime achievement award at January's annual SAG Awards - but the organization is now considering revoking it.
"Any accused person has the right to due process, but it is our starting point to believe the courageous voices who come forward to report incidents of harassment," a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson told The Post in a statement. "Given Mr. Freeman recently received one of our union's most prestigious honors recognizing his body of work, we are therefore reviewing what corrective actions may be warranted at this time."
In addition, TransLink, Vancouver's public transportation network, "has decided to pause his voice announcements as part of a VISA ad campaign on the transit system," it said in a statement to The Post, adding that it "will be in touch with VISA to discuss further."
The accusations against Freeman have also caused a stir among his fans on social media. Rose McGowan, an actress who has accused Harvey Weinstein of rape and who has been a prominent and controversial figure in the #MeToo movement, tweeted, "Hi everyone, I know your idols are falling, I know it hurts to be disappointed, but imagine if that person you thought you knew from his image sexually harassed you. Stay the course, we will be better for this societally. The conversation must be had."