CNN sparked a backlash Tuesday night after threatening to identify the Reddit user who claimed to have created a meme of Donald Trump body-slamming the CNN logo that the president later shared on Twitter.
CNN targeted Reddit user HanAs***leSolo because he took credit for the video and apparently had a history of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks online.
CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski opted not to identify the user “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again.”
But Kaczynski then added that “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change,” seemingly indicating that CNN would identify the user if he repeats his “ugly behavior” on social media. That sentence was widely interpreted as a threat. Kaczynski, who disputed that characterization, seemed especially upset that the Reddit user “was someone who shared an image of CNN reporters’ face with Stars of David next them.”
Kaczynski stated that the Reddit user’s public apology came after CNN identified and reached out to him.
News aggregator Matt Drudge quickly highlighted the story on his site, the Drudge Report, captioning it: “CNN Declines to ID Because He’s ‘Taken Down All Offending Posts.”
“Trump was bad. CNN is worse: CNN threatens amateur satirist behind Trump video: make fun of us again and we dox you,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter.
“I can’t emphasize how bad this is on CNN’s part,” wrote German Lopez, a reporter for liberal website Vox. “This is basically ‘don’t post stuff we don’t like or we’ll dox you.’ Extremely unethical.”
“That’s essentially blackmail. That’s CNN stating that it will out the guy if he dares to defy their political perspective or offends them sufficiently,” wrote conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. “The whole story is frightening, and obviously an attempt to both nail Trump and discourage people from smacking CNN.”
Others leveled similar criticisms at CNN for the piece, with many using the hashtag #CNNBlackmail, which quickly became the top trending hashtag on Twitter.
Republican congressman Scott Taylor was among those accusing CNN of committing blackmail. “Pretty sure a line is crossed here,” he added.
CNN denied that they blackmailed HanAs***leSolo.
“CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety. Any assertion that the network blackmailed him or coerced him is false. The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporters,” the network said in a statement Wednesday morning, leaving out the fact that the apology came after being contacted by CNN reporters, even if before any conversations took place. “CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user. In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user’s identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”
The backlash against CNN’s coverage of an anonymous Reddit user is just the latest in a string of bad publicity for the media company.
CNN recently fired hosts Kathy Griffin and Reza Aslan after each launched off-color attacks on Trump. Griffin held a photo shoot that featured a mock beheading of the president, while Aslan called Trump a “piece of shit.”
CNN was forced to correct and rewrite an anonymously-sourced story that claimed James Comey would debunk Trump’s statement that Comey thrice assured him that he was not under FBI investigation. (Comey confirmed, rather than refuted, Trump’s statement.)
Just weeks later, CNN retracted, deleted and then apologized for, a single-sourced story that claimed Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci was the subject of investigation as part of the Senate’s Russia probe. Scaramucci reportedly threatened to sue CNN for $100 million if they didn’t retract the story. Two CNN editors and a reporter resigned over their role in the botched story.
Activist James O’Keefe then began releasing a series of undercover videos targeting CNN employees. One CNN producer agreed with Trump’s sentiment that the Trump-Russia stories are largely a “witch hunt,” while another was caught making disparaging comments about White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s face.