CNN aired The Hunting Ground — a controversial documentary about campus sexual assaults — despite the threat of legal action.
A lawyer for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston threatened to sue CNN if it aired the film on Sunday night. It ran as scheduled.
In the film, Erica Kinsman accuses Winston of committing sexual assault during his time on the football team at Florida State University, a claim his lawyer says is defamatory.
In a letter to CNN first obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, lawyer John Boudet says the film “manipulates, misstates or simply omits facts to present a false narrative”:
“We urge CNN to reconsider the reckless decision to proceed with the broadcast of this deeply-flawed documentary in the face of the overwhelming evidence the film’s producers consciously and intentionally failed to adhere to any accepted journalistic standards.”
The documentary, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, argues women are at serious risk of sexual assault on college campuses and many college administrators have repeatedly tried to sweep the problem under the rug to avoid public relations problems.
Kinsman has filed a lawsuit against Winston, accusing him of forcible rape in 2012. He was not charged by police in Florida and is now starting for the Buccaneers.
Kinsman’s lawyer, John Clune, issued a statement over the weekend saying Winston had launched a “PR battle”:
“His latest attack is an attempt to revive his lawyers’ media themes and, as expected, shows no understanding of rape trauma and misrepresents the actual evidence. More importantly, Mr. Winston should get used to the rape allegations against him because film or no film, they aren’t going away.”
CNN made clear it would go ahead with plans to air the documentary.
“CNN is proud to provide a platform for a film that has undeniably played a significant role in advancing the national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses,” a network spokeswoman told The New York Times. “We are confident that both the film and our extensive associated coverage give this important issue the full and fair treatment it deserves.”
The Hunting Ground has also been criticized for its depiction of an incident at Harvard Law School, in which a student was accused of assaulting two women.
A letter signed by 19 Harvard Law School faculty members said the film “provides a seriously false picture both of the general sexual assault phenomenon at universities and of our student,” noting a grand jury declined to indict him on the most serious sexual assault charges brought against him.
The documentary makers say they stand behind the case as they presented it.