CNN has identified the creator of that wrestling meme. You know the one – the edited video clip of Donald Trump’s performance at a WWE event in 2007, with a CNN logo superimposed over the head of his opponent to create the effect of Trump beating up a network he calls “fake news.”
CNN said it decided to withhold the meme maker’s name, however, “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.”
Tweet: Some journalists have argued that CNN let the man off easy and should have published his name, a view articulated with a touch of humor by the New York Times’s Andrew Das.
CNN’s kids must get away with murder.
– Andrew Das (@AndrewDasNYT) July 5, 2017
Others have fixated on the line in CNN’s report that followed its description of the man’s promise to mend his social media ways: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
Tweet: The sentence spawned the trending Twitter hashtag #CNNBlackmail and should never have been in the story, according to the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto.
A savvy editor would have cut the “CNN reserves the right…” line.
– James Taranto (@jamestaranto) July 5, 2017
Thus, CNN managed to simultaneously draw accusations of going soft and issuing a threat. Basically, everyone is unhappy with the network for one reason or the other.
Online, the crowd charging CNN with blackmail is the louder of the two factions (hence the hashtag) and is pushing legitimate criticism into the genre of outrage fiction. One popular claim, advanced by Donald Trump Jr., is that the meme maker tracked down by CNN is a 15-year-old kid. That is false, according to Andrew Kaczynski, the CNN reporter who identified the man, a Reddit user.
Another popular claim is that CNN threatened to “doxx” the man. That, too, is false. Doxxing involves publication of information such as a mailing address, phone number or email address that is designed to facilitate acts of intimidation. Simply publishing a person’s name in a news report, if CNN were to do so, would not qualify as doxxing.
CNN on Wednesday issued a statement in response to criticism of its report: “CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety. Any assertion that the network blackmailed 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 reporter. 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.”
Earlier, Kaczynski responded on Twitter, writing that “to say we threatened anyone is a total lie” and that the line about reserving the right to publish the meme maker’s name “is being misinterpreted.”
“It was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity,” Kaczynski tweeted.
Whatever the intent, the ominous wording did carry an implied threat: Keep your word to clean up your act, or we will out you.
Tracking down the user was certainly a worthwhile endeavor. As The Washington Post’s Avi Selk reported Sunday, the user has displayed a history of online bigotry that should have raised a red flag at the White House before the president tweeted the wrestling clip.
Suppose the user had turned out to hold a leadership position in a known hate group or had been a political operative hiding behind a screen name. His identity surely would have been newsworthy under one of those scenarios.
Instead, it appears, the user is just some random dude. CNN elected to spare him public ridicule – but not the lingering possibility that his name could be published in the future.
By straddling the fence, granting clemency with conditions, the network invited criticism from both sides.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Callum Borchers