NFL quarterback and former Florida State University star Jameis Winston threatened possible suit against CNN last week, on the eve of its broadcast of "The Hunting Ground," a documentary which recounts a 2012 rape accusation against him.
"CNN may have persuaded itself that Mr. Winston's status as a public figure insulates your company from a libel judgment," according to a letter sent by his attorney and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. "If CNN decides to proceed with this broadcast, we will perhaps have the opportunity to test that legal proposition in a court of law."
The network decided to air the documentary on Sunday anyway, telling the New York Times, "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."
The airing was accompanied by "extensive associated coverage” to give “full and fair treatment" to the subject, the network has said, according to the Times.
"The Hunting Ground" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and traces several stories of campus sexual assault. It includes the first public comments made by Winston's accuser, Erica Kinsman.
Winston's attorney in turn accused the documentary of manipulation and the ommission of information in its presentation of Kinsman's accusation, according to the letter obtained by THR.
"While we understand the seriousness of the issue that this film seeks to illustrate, that worthy goal provides no excuse, legally or morally, for CNN to falsely and maliciously destroy Mr. Winston's reputation," according to the letter.
"We are writing to formally caution CNN that the portions of the film 'The Hunting Ground' pertaining to Mr. Winston are false and defamatory to Mr. Winston,"according to the letter. "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."
Winston has never been charged following Kinsman's accusation, has adamantly denied it and was cleared in a university student code of conduct hearing
The investigation following Kinsman's accusation was the subject of a 2014 New York Times investigation which found "that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university."
"After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA," according to that investigation.
The "Hunting Ground" filmmakers said in a statement to THR, in part, "When documentaries bring to light uncomfortable truths about powerful people and institutions, it's not unusual for them to wage aggressive campaigns to silence their critics. That's what we're seeing now."