Say it ain’t so. He’s played presidents, world leaders, and even God, with a voice practically dripping with authority. Morgan Freeman may be in for a big fall, CNN reports, with multiple women coming forward to accuse the Shawshank Redemption star of sexual harassment:

In one incident, she said, Freeman “kept trying to lift up my skirt and asking if I was wearing underwear.” He never successfully lifted her skirt, she said — he would touch it and try to lift it, she would move away, and then he’d try again. Eventually, she said, “Alan [Arkin] made a comment telling him to stop. Morgan got freaked out and didn’t know what to say.”

Freeman’s alleged inappropriate behavior was not limited to that one movie set, according to other sources who spoke to CNN. A woman who was a senior member of the production staff of the movie “Now You See Me” in 2012 told CNN that Freeman sexually harassed her and her female assistant on numerous occasions by making comments about their bodies.

“He did comment on our bodies… We knew that if he was coming by … not to wear any top that would show our breasts, not to wear anything that would show our bottoms, meaning not wearing clothes that [were] fitted,” she said.

In all, CNN found eight women and eight other witnesses corroborating the allegations. The behavior took place not just on movie sets but also in Freeman’s production company, and the accusers claim that his business partner enabled it:

Of those 16, seven people described an environment at Revelations Entertainment that included allegations of harassment or inappropriate behavior by Freeman there, with one incident allegedly witnessed by Lori McCreary, Freeman’s co-founder in the enterprise, and another in which she was the target of demeaning comments by Freeman in a public setting. One of those seven people alleged that McCreary made a discriminatory remark regarding a female candidate for a job at the Producers Guild of America, where McCreary is co-president.

This appears to be yet another of Hollywood’s “open secrets.” It was so well known, CNN notes, that they didn’t even have to mention Freeman’s name when calling potential witnesses. Their contacts, some of whom didn’t cooperate with the reporters, volunteered Freeman’s name when the question of an actor exhibiting inappropriate behavior came up, according to CNN.

Speaking of which, one witness is one of the CNN reporters on this story, along with two other entertainment-media journalists:

CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas, the co-author of this article, says she was subjected to inappropriate behavior by Freeman more than a year ago, when she interviewed him at a press junket for “Going in Style.” According to Melas, who was six months pregnant at the time, Freeman, in a room full of people, including his co-stars Arkin and 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.” Cameras were on and recording during one of Freeman’s remarks to Melas — “Boy, do I wish I was there” — but not for the rest.

That raises at least a question about editorial choices on this article, one which has nothing to do with Freeman’s relative guilt or innocence. Should a witness and/or victim cover the story, at least in its straight-news version? Melas certainly could write a perspective piece on this, being caught in Hollywood’s #MeToo moment, but this is not a perspective piece. It’s news reporting, which should come from at least a somewhat detached observer for greatest credibility. CNN had other reporters who could have stepped into that role.

On the other hand, though, without that personal experience the story may never have gotten reported in the first place:

After the encounter with Freeman, Melas started making calls to see if other women had experienced anything similar, or whether this was an isolated incident. She soon learned that other women had similar stories — and so she, and later her co-author, began this months-long reporting process.

Fair point. Other than that, though, the reporting looks solid for the moment, and that leaves Freeman in a very difficult spot. He’s much more used to being treated as a Hollywood icon rather than a “creepy uncle,” as described by an employee of his production company. At least the allegations are limited to “creepy uncle,” rather than crossing into Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey — a very low bar, of course, but degrees will matter in these cases.

At 80 years old, Freeman might get off the hook with abject apologies, promises to reform, and some painfully large donations to the #TimesUp movement. If he chooses the humble route, Freeman can offer explanations of growing up in a different time, being slow to recognize inappropriate behaviors, following Joe Biden’s example right down to the neck massages, and so on. If no complaints emerge about assaults or sexual extortion, a few public rounds of mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa will likely suffice, thanks to the considerable goodwill he has earned from audiences over the last several decades. If this shakes loose anything more, though, Freeman might want to sail into retirement before they start bringing in Christopher Plummer to reshoot his scenes.

Update: This … is probably not going to suffice:

After this article was published, Freeman released a statement in which he said, “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.”

Note that this is not a denial, but rather a clarification of intent. The I’m-sorry-if-you-were-offended apology doesn’t really work in politics, as much as politicians like to think they do. And whether Freeman knows it or not, this is politics, not entertainment.