Florida State University

FSU president Thrasher: CNN decision to air ‘Hunting Ground’ documentary is inexcusable

The president of Florida State University condemned CNN’s upcoming airing of a film that explores sexual assault on college campuses, saying it does not adhere to journalistic standards.

As a result, FSU president John Thrasher is refusing to participate in a televised panel discussion on CNN to talk about the film, The Hunting Ground.

“It is inexcusable for a network as respected as CNN to pretend that the film is a documentary rather than an advocacy piece,” Thrasher wrote in a statement that was distributed Monday.

The film examines sexual assault cases on college campuses, including the high-profile case involving former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, and details how some schools have ignored or acted indifferently to victims.

No criminal charges were filed in Winston’s case, and the quarterback now plays in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Erica Kinsman, who alleges she was raped by Winston in 2012, has filed civil lawsuits against both FSU and Winston.

Winston’s case is one of several examined in The Hunting Ground, which was released in February and is scheduled to air Sunday on CNN.

“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 CNN spokesperson said Monday. “We are confident that both the film and our extensive associated coverage give this important issue the full and fair treatment it deserves.”

In his statement, Thrasher said the film “contains major distortions and glaring omissions to support its simplistic narrative that colleges and universities are to blame for our national sexual assault crisis.

“FSU plays a prominent part in the film in a one-sided segment accusing Tallahassee police and the University of ignoring sexual assault allegations against former quarterback Jameis Winston to protect the athletic program,” Thrasher continued.

To support its assertion, FSU informed CNN in August of e-mails it had obtained through its ongoing litigation with Kinsman. In one of them, which was sent to Kinsman’s former attorney, a producer for the film writes, “We do not operate the same way as journalists — this is a film project that is very much in the corner of advocacy for victims . . .”

Said a source familiar with the FSU lawsuit: “People will watch [the film] and they’ll think it’s a valid documentary, and it’s not. And these e-mails prove that it isn’t.”

FSU isn’t the only one attacking the film.

A group of 19 Harvard Law School professors have come out against the film and its portrayal of a case involving a Harvard student.

The professors, in a letter, wrote that the film “provides a seriously false picture both of the general sexual assault phenomenon at universities and of our student.”