On Wednesday afternoon, CNN finally responded to the scandal percolating up from the internet world in the wake of a report on the anonymous Reddit user who created a meme of President Trump pummeling a CNN logo. Here was CNN’s response:
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.
This defense falls flat on at least two counts.
First, the author of the CNN piece, investigative journalist Andrew Kaczynski, tweeted earlier yesterday evening that he had reached out to the Reddit user before the user apologized. Kaczynski tweeted, “This apology came after CNN identified and reached out to HanA**holeSolo. Story and interview w/him posting soon.” He then followed up, “‘HanA**holeSolo’ posted his apology before we *ever* spoke with him. He called us afterwards to apologize further.” Here’s what this timeline means: CNN tracked down and identified the Reddit user. The Reddit user, before calling CNN back, took down all of his memes and issued a public apology. CNN then issued its public warning — if HanA**holeSolo backtracked on that apology or on further posting of nasty material, they had the right to doxx him.
It’s that public warning that provides the second hole in CNN’s defense. CNN insists that they never “blackmailed or coerced him.” They add, “CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user.” But here is their own original report:
CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed 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. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.
CNN says that the last line here is an assurance that they have no deal with him. But why not simply say that CNN is keeping him anonymous for his own safety? And why would his safety then change in a positive direction based on him reneging on a non-deal with CNN?
None of this washes. CNN targeted this Reddit user in an attempt to link his worst views with Trump, and then used its power to implicitly and explicitly threaten him publicly. That’s not journalism. That’s activism.