CNN’s legal team on Thursday defiantly told Morgan Freeman that the network isn’t afraid to go to court with him, following the actor’s attempts to poke holes in the cable channel’s report alleging he harassed at least eight women throughout his career.
On Tuesday, Freeman’s attorney Robert Schwartz asked CNN president Jeff Zucker to retract the network’s bombshell report, arguing that its author was biased against Freeman and that witnesses had been “baited and prodded” into making negative statements about the actor.
In a letter to the Freeman’s attorney on Thursday, CNN senior VP of legal David Vigilante pushed back against the actor’s camp’s claims that the network’s reporting was flawed, saying CNN doesn’t fear a court battle because of California’s strong “anti-SLAAP” law against suits aimed at burdening critics with legal costs until they bow out.
“This law requires an award of attorney’s fees to the prevailing defendant. CNN has successfully pursued this remedy in the past, and will not hesitate to do so here,” Vigilante said.
Vigilante argued that Schwartz’s letter was “designed for press consumption, it is rife with empty speculation, overheated rhetoric, and in some instances plainly false assertions.”
“The overheated protestations in your letter do not cast any shadow on the central gravamen of CNN’s story—that Morgan Freeman engaged in a pattern of behavior that demeaned and sexualized women, whether or not they were in his employ,” the CNN exec continued.
In particular, Vigilante criticized Freeman’s legal team for singling out reporter Chloe Melas, who said she was inspired to investigate Freeman after he made what she interpreted as inappropriate comments when she interviewed the actor in 2017. While Freeman’s team claimed on-camera footage of the interview exonerated the actor, Vigilante implied that some of the harassment may have occurred off-camera.
“You engage in lengthy and baseless ad hominem attack on one of the women who reported the story—because she too was the recipient of these kinds of unwanted remarks - and outright mischaracterizations of the report itself,” Vigilante said.
The network lawyer also admonished Schwartz for allegedly inferring that Melas’ reporting was racially motivated, saying it prompted death threats against her and her family, and caused a PR representative to pull her male clients from interviews with Melas.
“This trolling, your false inferences of racism and the professional bullying Ms. Melas has received are what makes so many women afraid to come forward,” Vigilante wrote.
CNN also said Schwartz’s representation of Freeman was a conflict of interest, noting that his law firm had been representing CNN in intellectual property suits.
“We will be evaluating how to handle this serious conflict of interest and unfortunate breach of good faith over the coming days,” Vigilante wrote.
In a brief email, Schwartz dismissed the letter.
“CNN’s letter is long on saber-rattling but short on substance," 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."