UPDATED 2:41 PM: Morgan Freeman’s attorney has issued a statement responding to a letter from CNN’s lawyer: “CNN’s letter is long on saber-rattling but short on substance,” Robert Schwartz said. “It fails to address the compelling evidence we provided that the story was tarnished by manipulation of the facts and conflict of interest. Enough is enough. “
PREVIOUSLY, 2:18 PM: CNN has fired the latest salvo in its burgeoning battle with Morgan Freeman. In a lengthy letter from the cable news org’s attorney responding to one sent by Freeman’s lawyer demanding a retraction of its exposé on the Oscar-winning actor, CNN again stands by its story and calls out attorney Robert M. Schwartz for his “serious conflict of interest and unfortunate breach of good faith.”
This all started with CNN’s report a week ago in which eight women accuse the 80-year-old actor of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. Sixteen people were interviewed for its report, including some who said they witnessed the behavior. Freeman at first apologized “to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected,” then said a day later that he was “devastated” over the allegations but averred, “I did not assault women.”
In the letter emailed to Schwartz from CNN’s SVP Legal David C. Vigilante (read it here), the news organization balks at a retraction, reiterating Freeman’s “troubling habit of demeaning and sexualizing women, whether they encounter him professionally or work for him, which goes back years. That is the gravamen of CNN’s reporting. It was accurate when reported by CNN. It remains accurate now.”
CNN’s letter also notes that Freeman “does not challenge reporting that he repeatedly tried to lift the skirt of a young production assistant” nor its reporting that he “massaged a young intern without her consent” and that he “sexualized female attendees at his 79th birthday party.”
The letter also goes after what it calls a conflict of interest for Schwartz.
“Lastly, in your haste to publicize your outrageous accusations against CNN and its reporters it is apparent that you did not even run a superficial conflict check,” Vigilante wrote. “Had you done so you would have learned that your firm has been actively representing CNN and its affiliates in several intellectual property matters. In fact, your partner and my colleague communicated as recently as this week. And as you are undoubtedly aware, you personally have represented our sister division Warner Bros. in numerous cases, and your firm is currently representing Warner Bros. in an industry-wide class action lawsuit. The tone and content of your letter is already beyond the pale, but this context makes it especially troubling to us. We will be evaluating how to handle this serious conflict of interest and unfortunate breach of good faith over the coming days.”
Since CNN’s story broke, SAG-AFTRA has said it is reviewing possible “corrective actions” against Freeman, who received the SAG Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award this year — the guild’s highest honor — and Vancouver public transportation service has “paused” its relationship with the actor.
Not-so-bold prediction: This won’t be the last we hear about this case. Stay tuned.