Morgan Freeman’s honey-kissed baritone has narrated dozens of documentaries and public announcements in the Oscar-winner’s long Hollywood career.
But the 80-year-old star’s tenure in the business probably failed to prep him for the Russian reaction that greeted a two-minute online video he recorded recently for a group hoping to keep alive concerns over Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Freeman is being portrayed as a tool of the U.S. establishment trying to bring down Trump, and as a man suffering from a “Messianic complex” from movie roles playing God and the president of the United States.
A “#StopMorganLie” hashtag is circulating aimed at discrediting the actor.
In the controversial video’s opening, Freeman dramatically declares: “We have been attacked. We are at war.”
The Freeman video was put out this week by the Committee to Investigate Russia. Founded by Rob Reiner, the director of comedy classics such as “This Is Spinal Tap” and “When Harry Met Sally,” the nonpartisan group is pushing for a more aggressive acknowledgment of the alleged Russian hack. Freeman’s video sets that tone, referring to President Vladimir Putin as “a former KGB spy” who has “set his sights on his sworn enemy, the United States.”
“We need our president to speak directly to us and to speak the truth,” Freeman urges. The clip has more than 244,000 views.
But now the legendary American actor is a pariah in Russia, with Kremlin officials, Russian talking heads and pro-Putin social media trolls ganging up to denounce Freeman. The all-hands-on-deck response suggests a concerted Russian effort to discredit the actor via social media.
Reiner’s group does boast significant names among its advisory board, including former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and conservative never-Trump critic Charles Sykes. (But as ThinkProgress points out, the committee does not boast any actual Russian experts in its governing body.)
The moviemaker told Variety this week that the committee would be a “one-stop shop where people can come and be made aware” of “what the breaking news stories are today, the various investigations, what stages they are in, but also to understand the history, and what the Soviet Union and now Russia has been trying to do for many, many years.”
Reiner added: “My concern is people don’t understand the gravity of what they were able to do.”
Russian government officials hit back immediately at the video this week, fixing their crosshairs specifically on Freeman.
Tass, the Russian news agency, published remarks from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova arguing that Freeman had been “roped in” to the Russia attack, and likening the video to when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the United Nations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
“I believe this is another story about the end justifying the means. However, we will know who is behind this story sooner than we knew about the true contents of the infamous test tube,” Zakharova stated, an apparent reference to Powell’s 2003 United Nations presentation, in which he held up a vial of anthrax to support the claim that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled chemical weapons.
“Recently it became known that the Obama administration had been wiretapping Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort based on a secret court decision…. The wiretapping activities continued after the election. Do you understand what Russia has to do with it? Right, the goal is to legitimize the post-election lawlessness.”
This week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also addressed the video, telling reporters that Freeman’s comments “can hardly be taken seriously” and arguing that the actor was “a victim of emotionally charged, self-exalted status,” according to Radio Free Europe. The official added that “many performing artists easily succumb to becoming victims of emotional strain with no real information about the real state of things.”
Russian media was wilder in its theorizing.
The BBC reported this week that Freeman was a frequent topic on Russian television. One station — Rossiya 24 — quizzed a panel of psychiatrists about the actor’s motivations, and the medical professionals reportedly attributed “the performance to a Messianic complex resulting from playing God or the president in several films, not to mention ‘drug abuse.’ ”
Another TV personality said Freeman was sick from “overwork and marijuana use.” TV Center claimed the clip was part of an “establishment campaign to oust Trump,” the BBC reported.
Pro-Russian Twitter trolls have also jumped on the actor, wielding the somewhat awkward hashtag “#StopMorganLie.”
But as commentators have pointed out, the #StopMorganLie trolls seem to all be following the same script — trying to discredit the idea that the United States is a democratic nation.
“Freeman’s comments leveled at ‘Russia’s continuing attacks on our [U.S.] democracy’ have created quite a stir on Twitter,” reported RT, the Russian-funded news cable network. “People said that the ‘democracy’ statement is pure hypocrisy, as the US has been at war with and interfering in the affairs of many other states, such as Libya, Ukraine and Iraq.
It has left some experts like Rolf Fredheim, an analyst at NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga, Latvia, wondering whether the anti-Freeman blowback was less of an organic reaction than a Kremlin scheme.
“It does look very highly coordinated, because you’re seeing something on multiple platforms at the same time communicating the same message,” Fredheim told Radio Free Europe this week.
“It’s more than just a teenager in the basement. It could be many teenagers in many basements. But it could also be something more sophisticated than that … the St. Petersburg troll factories, for instance. It could be an example of some kind of Russian troll-farm output.”
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