You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

CNN Staffers Shocked WarnerMedia Hired Morgan Freeman After Sexual Harassment Allegations

In May 2018, CNN reporters An Phung and Chloe Melas published an investigative story about Morgan Freeman that detailed allegations of harassment and inappropriate behavior leveled by eight women. 

So when Freeman’s voice was heard narrating the opening video at Tuesday’s WarnerMedia  presentation to investors, it was a surprise — and a slap in the face to some CNN staffers, given that CNN is a WarnerMedia company. 

“It’s disgusting,” one CNN employee told Variety. “So many of us were scratching our heads in shock, wondering how something like this could even happen.” (No CNN staffers would talk to Variety on the record for fear of reprisal.)

The video compilation was meant to illustrate AT&T’s, Warner Bros.’ and Turner’s accomplishments as separate companies that are now one. Imagery of telephones, satellites, movies (from “Casablanca” to the “Harry Potter” films),  television shows (“Friends,” “ER”) and CNN journalists flashed across the screen at Warner Bros.’ Burbank headquarters, broadcast over a livestream to the public. The five-minute video led up to John Stankey, the AT&T president and COO and WarnerMedia CEO, taking the stage to introduce the company’s new streaming service, HBO Max — the key to its future.

“Innovation: It can be born out of a single spark,” intoned Freeman as the video played. “And this spark has spread to change our lives forever, connecting us instantaneously through the stars high above. Today, that spark is continuing to spread.”

A spokesperson for WarnerMedia did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a CNN spokesperson. 

In the CNN story, one of the women who alleged Freeman behaved inappropriately toward her was CNN’s Melas herself: “According to Melas, who was six months pregnant at the time, Freeman, in a room full of people, including his co-stars [Alan] Arkin and [Michael] Caine, shook Melas’ hand, not letting go while repeatedly looking her up and down and saying more than once a variation of, ‘I wish I was there.’ She says he also said to her, ‘You are ripe.’” (Melas and Phung did not respond to a request for comment.)

Freeman’s response to the story at the time was, “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.” He later went on to deny the allegations more strenuously, saying his attempts at humor had been misunderstood: “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.” (Freeman’s representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Since the CNN story broke, the Oscar-winning Freeman has continued to work, but his public persona has taken a hit. While he was once the go-to actor for voiceover, having played the voice of God in “Bruce Almighty” and recently starring in NatGeo’s “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” the idea that WarnerMedia would shrug off its own reporting about him and pay him for this event felt like a gross oversight to CNN employees.

One former CNN employee expressed confusion about hiring Freeman, saying, “Of all the millions of people they could have hired, why him?” 

A current employee told Variety that “people were texting about it, wondering how it happened.”

This source added that it appeared to be particularly “disrespectful” to Melas. 

“Someone just wasn’t thinking, and didn’t do research, I guess.” 

“It was tone deaf,” added a third CNN staffer.

More TV

  • Jennifer Williams, Special Advisor for Europe

    TV Ratings: Impeachment Hearings Day 3 Draws 12 Million Average Viewers

    Day 3 of the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump drew big numbers yet again across the major broadcast and news networks. An average of around 12 million total viewers tuned in across the morning and afternoon sessions, with 11.4 million watching in the morning and roughly 13 million in the afternoon. Fox News drew [...]

  • Black Summer

    'Black Summer' Renewed for Season 2 at Netflix

    Netflix has renewed the zombie thriller series “Black Summer” for a second season, Variety has learned. The second season will consist of eight episodes and will begin production next year in Alberta, Canada. Jamie King will return to star in the second season and will also serve as a producer. Cast members Justin Chu Cary and [...]

  • Anita Hill

    Anita Hill's Commission Launches Entertainment Industry Survey on Sexual Harassment

    The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, led by Anita Hill, has launched a survey of the entertainment industry. Hill accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation hearings in 1991. Since then, in addition to teaching law and policy at Brandeis University, Hill has been [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johansson to Host

    Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johansson to Host 'SNL' in December, Lizzo Set as Musical Guest

    Jennifer Lopez and Scarlett Johansson are set to host episodes of “Saturday Night Live” in December. Lopez, who will headline the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show with Shakira and whose performance in the movie “Hustlers” is generating Oscar buzz, will host the Dec. 7 episode with DaBaby making his first appearance on the show as [...]

  • Pierluigi Gazzolo Juan Acosta

    Pierluigi Gazzolo to Head Viacom International Studios, OTT International

    Viacom International Media Networks has named Pierluigi Gazzolo president of OTT International and Viacom International Studios. Gazzolo, who will report to VIMN president and CEO David Lynn, was most recently president of VIMN Americas and executive vice president of Nickelodeon International. As the streaming landscape becomes increasingly competitive, the move marks an increased focus on [...]

  • Jim Cornette

    Jim Cornette Resigns From National Wrestling Alliance After 'Offensive' On-Air Statement

    Professional wrestling mainstay Jim Cornette has resigned his position with the National Wrestling Alliance. “Effective immediately: Jim Cornette has resigned from the National Wrestling Alliance,” the company said in a statement released Wednesday. “As an announcer on the November 19th edition of ‘NWA Power,’ Jim made remarks during a singles match between Nick Aldis and [...]

  • Nadia Bjorlin, Martha Madison"Days of our

    'Days of Our Lives' to Launch New Digital Series 'Last Blast Reunion'

    “Days of Our Lives” is launching a new digital series, entitled “Last Blast Reunion,” on the DOOL App Nov. 29. This streaming series will bring nine beloved characters from the 2000 season of the NBC daytime drama back together for a special Salem High class reunion. Brandon Beemer, Martha Madison, Nadia Bjorlin, Heather Lindell, Aaron [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content