The Morgan Freeman Rumor: Does MSN Link Make it Real News?

BlogHer Original Post

My email box burns with the Morgan Freeman rumor. Do you think the story that esteemed actor Morgan Freeman, 72, allegedly intends to marry his step-daughter, E'Dena Hines, age 27, after having an affair with her for the last 10 years is true? That would mean the affair began when the young woman was 17. Spokespeople for the actor deny the allegations. It does, after all, come from the National Enquirer. Putting all caps here would be rude, so, bear with me. Whisper this word wherever you are. Let it sink in: Rumor

Would your feelings about the actor change if the story turned out to be fact? Is it anybody's business but his who he loves? If the story is true at all, remember that the young lady's not related by blood but by family trust.

morgan freeman granddaughter gossip

There's a showbiz saying that "there's no such thing as bad publicity." I'm not sure that's true when it comes to rumors that a respected, elderly actor has been boinking a girl who is like a granddaughter to him, blood or not, a girl he helped raise.

With only one anonymous source giving them information, the National Enquirer has set fire to Freeman's legacy and career, as in possibly sending him down in flames in the eyes of fans, potential sponsors, and movie producers. Multiple gossip sites like Babble, Perez Hilton, and Bitten & Bound quickly added wood to the sordid tale of alleged incest.

And then a "mainstream" portal, an arm of the corporate giant Microsoft, MSN, which partners with MSNBC, doused the rumor with additional fuel on July 27. It linked to the story on its main page, according to ABC's Memphis TV station, WPTY. Furthermore, MSN has a link asking for discussion on its Facebook page.

WPTY Memphis, which is about two hours from Freeman's hometown, Clarksdale, Miss., reports that the MSN link may make Daryl Bell, the managing editor of the Clarksdale Press Register, and the paper's staff rethink its earlier position that Freeman's alleged affair with his step-granddaughter is not newsworthy.

"We haven't touched on it," says Daryl Bell with the Press Register, "but that may change in the next 24-hours. We'll decide then if we're going to take it from there." (quote source WPTY)

This is the way news has been done for years. Either a small town source writes a story and does homework on all the facts and a mainstream news outlet picks it up after being convinced the facts are correct, or a big, mainstream outlet reports a story and a small town news outlet assumes it's true. We tend to assume that if a big corporation or mega-media outlet shares news then that news is credible. But I'm not convinced an MSN link is credible, especially since MSN presents the story as rumor for discussion.

When it comes to celebrity news, news outlets are sometimes lazier about verifying information--sifting fact from rumor--because public figures are easy targets. They have less protection from libel and slander. In addition, it's hard to disprove some types of stories. The common care taken by the press is to use words like "alleged," and, in a quest for sales and ratings, they let the chips fall where they may. However, celebrities are still human and most humans feel hurt when people tell lies about them or share true but dirty secrets.

According to the the Memphis station and other sources:

E'Dena Hines is the biological granddaughter of Freeman's first wife. She was raised by the actor and his second wife, Myrna. Hines attended several Hollywood events with Freeman, including last year's premiere of The Dark Knight.

It seems from news sources that during his first marriage Freeman adopted E'Dena's mother, who is the daughter of his first wife, Jeanette Adair Bradshaw. How it is that Freeman and his second wife, Myrna, ended up supposedly raising E'Dena remains unclear.

Freeman and Myrna Colley-Lee (pictured) are in the midst of a "bitter," high-stakes divorce after a 25-year marriage, report news sources. E'Dena would have been about two when Freeman and Myrna married. It's possible this story gained traction not only from the divorce but also from the actor having the young woman on his arm at Hollywood events. Also, there was speculation about the cause of Freeman's divorce after the actor's car accident last year when the media reported him as being in the car with a mysterious female "friend." News of the divorce broke only days after the crash.

The pictures, like the ones of Freeman and Hines earlier in this post, are making their way around the Web and could be perceived as a man treating his granddaughter to a night on the town or a old man with his sweet young thing. How any viewer perceives the photos may say more about the context in which the photos are presented and how willing the viewer is to swallow dirt without facts than anything fact or fiction regarding an affair.

Freeman's media consultant, Dave Falkenstein, calls the granddaughter affair story "absurd." Per news sources, Falkenstein's firm is the same firm hired by the family of Michael Jackson to deal with the press.

The Enquirer, an old-media gossip tabloid, began reporting the possible scandal in June, and if this outrageous rumor were to turn out to be true, which I sincerely hope it does not, I would agree with a poster at GabbyBabble that the story smells like the Woody Allen sex scandal back in the 90s.

Allen's lover of 12 years, actress Mia Farrow, accused Allen, with whom she had adopted children and had a biological son, of molesting their 7-year-old adopted daughter Dylan. The accusation made news when Allen sued for custody of the pair's three children and was never proven. It was treated as an ugly allegation typical of an ugly custody battle.

However, people became more inclined to doubt Allen when it was revealed that he was in love with and intended to marry Farrow's 21-year-old daughter, Soon-Yi Farrow Previn, his step-daughter. Farrow had adopted Soon-Yi from Korea while married to symphony director Andre Previn.

Allen did indeed marry Soon-Yi, a woman 35 years his junior, and the two are still married. He was persona nongrata in Hollywood for years after the scandal, but he's been welcomed back to its bosom with fellow actors today making observations like "Look how happy Soon-Yi's made him." Allen himself has been quoted to say he likes the "paternal" feeling he gets from the relationship.

Knowing the Allen-Farrow history makes the Freeman story seem not so unthinkable, despite Freeman being not 35 years older than his step-granddaughter but 45 years older. However, Freeman has not had the kind of quirky image Allen's had. Allen, like most actors, has often been confused with the kinds of characters he plays in his movies. People think Allen is that strange man, the card-carrying neurotics capable of unknown freakiness.

Freeman, however, has been associated with level-headed respectability. When folks confuse him with his characters, they mistake him for the loyal servant or the unsullied detective, not to mention God, which is why he was a great actor to play the duplicitous Sloan in Wanted with Angelina Jolie. Who thinks Freeman's going to be the bad guy?

Do Most People Care if Gossip is Fact or Fiction? Are lies less titillating? If so, then why is it so many of us ignore facts when revealed? Think politics or consider that Michael Jackson was never found guilty in a court of law of child molestation charges, yet people still call him a "pedophile." What if he was strange but not that strange?

Speaking of Jackson, it's interesting to me that TMZ, the big gossip site that broke Michael Jackson's death, is not reporting the Freeman/Hines rumor yet. Perhaps other gossip sites, and the National Enquirer, should take note. The mega-site's owned by an attorney who may be skittish about reporting such a horrible accusation on the say-so of one flimsy, anonymous source.

However, if this story goes the way of the Web, it will be repeatedly reported and after a time folks will ignore the word "rumor" and think the story is true. Think about it. How many times have you seen stories on the web reported to the point that it's bad source quoting bad source and the facts remain unchecked?

This Freeman rumor is one of the ugliest tabloid stories I've heard in a while. Since I don't read papers like National Enquirer, I hear of its tales when a friend or relative sends an email or a mainstream media source references it. I got wind of the Freeman rumor today and the email comments on it range from that's "f*cked up" to "what a pedophile" to "will she stay after he loses his endorsements." People seem to just take it as fact.

However, WPTY reports fans in Freeman's hometown don't buy it. Some Freeman fans immediately dismiss it saying the facts aren't in, and bloggers commenting to me at Facebook such as Pamela at Pam's Coffee Conversations and Regina of Regina's Family Seasons both prefer to give Freeman the benefit of doubt. Good for them.

MSN's linking to the story raises questions. Does it matter that a mainstream portal links to or promotes a gossip site's story? Does its linking suggest the story is credible?

Over the weekend I reported on rumors of Sarah Palin's divorce and mentioned stories of alleged affairs also reported by gossip sites and the National Enquirer. I was careful to tell readers to take the affairs and divorce noise with a big grain of salt.

The only thing dirtier than a gossip rag may be political mudslinging. Without knowing who's leaking information and the agenda of that person, we can't gauge the validity of the information, and so we trust the messenger instead, which is why we we should watch news outlets carefully and remember that not only do political operatives have ulterior motives, but also celebrity news outlets--money.

As I discussed with another writer on Twitter, the age of the fact-based news story may be gone. Yes, gossip rags have always been around and have been sometimes a newspaper's bread and butter, paying the bills so the publisher can hire reporters to cover hard news. However, it used to be that so-called "real news" outlets waited to get the facts before even mentioning tabloid gossip and the gossip pages didn't spill over into the news section until a credible source commented or a paper trail materialized. The Internet has changed that.

In today's age of news at mind-numbing speeds, with mainstream outlets afraid that they're dying, news sections appear to feel pressure to at least acknowledge awareness of rumors because people love gossip and gossip makes money? Since TMZ, a gossip site, broke Michael Jackson's death, the question of credible sources has arisen again, but as BlogHer's Lisa Stone reminds reader in her comment on a "spreading news" post, "Sleazy sources have been breaking real news for years."

Yet, how many lives do sleazy rags with sleazy sources trash to get to those stories? What's the never-proven rumor-to-fact ratio for a paper like the National Enquirer and with the rise of the Net, will anyone ever have time to put a rumor in check before it grows sturdy legs?

Blogs and social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace make it easy for us to put in writing what we used to only share on the telephone with mild twinges of guilt. Gossip by the common human--tales of the "citizen journalist"--travels fast and is furiously damning. The spoken word may fade but the digitally printed word can be immortal.

From what I see, we tend to ask first "What if its true?" and silence the still small voice that wonders "what if it's not?" We say sucks for them and then click the post button.

On the Morgan Freeman story, with its look of incest and the darkest side of breaking trust, I hope the sleazy sources got it wrong this time. I really do. If the sources got it right, then what can we say except that Freeman is a talented actor and also just a actor, one more man with a muddied reputation.

Nordette is a BlogHer CE and the African-American Books Examiner at Examiner.com. This post is cross-posted in draft at her personal blog, WSATA.

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