In a Tuesday tweet that set the internet on fire, President Trump posted a gif showing him tackling "CNN" and raining punches down on the news network's forehead. The gif was taken from Wrestlemania 23 in 2007, in which Trump and WWE CEO Vince McMahon squared off in the "Battle of the Billionaires" (although the actual match was between Bobby Lashley and "The Samoan Bulldozer" Umaga, with Trump supporting the former and McMahon the latter.)
Some found it funny. Some found it outrageous. CNN was not pleased — and perhaps they could have parlayed Trump's tweet into good publicity, had they not somehow topped the president. The gif came from Redditor "HanAssholeSolo," who CNN quickly tracked down and, in their words, "attempted to contact." The next day, HanAssholeSolo issued a lengthy apology on the pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald, a post that has since been deleted by the subreddit's moderators.
It was then that CNN posted one of the year's most unsettling statements — something that would sound more appropriate from a mafia don or hacker group than a cable news organization: "'HanA**holeSolo' sounded nervous about his identity being revealed and asked to not be named out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family."
"CNN is not publishing 'HanA**holeSolo's'name 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… CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change." Emphasis ours.
The CNN statement was met with widespread criticism, as a cable news channel available in over 82 percent of American households in effect threatened to dox a reddit user whose only crime was making offensive memes. Prominent among the critics was the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. "So I guess they weren't effective threatening the admin so they go after & bully a 15 y/o? Seems in line w their "standards" #CNNBlackmail" he tweeted on Wednesday.
Junior also retweeted right-wing political consultant Ali Alexander, who called the CNN reporter behind the story, Andrew Kacynski, a "bottomfeeder." "This isn't journalism, this is coercion, requiring capitulation," Ali wrote.
It wasn't only Trump supporters and conservatives who came out against CNN. German Lopez, a Vox reporter who accused Trump of having "lied and bullshitted to the American people" in a recent article, called CNN's actions "extremely unethical."
I can't emphasize how bad this is on CNN's part. This is basically "don't post stuff we don't like or we'll dox you." Extremely unethical. pic.twitter.com/5bJZIZasH0— German Lopez (@germanrlopez) July 5, 2017
"Even if you think this jerk deserves it, think about all the other people it would affect — his family, friends, etc. Just awful," he tweeted.
Even if you think this jerk deserves it, think about all the other people it would affect — his family, friends, etc. Just awful.— German Lopez (@germanrlopez) July 5, 2017
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Wikileaks head Julian Assange both went further, suggesting that CNN was in violation of criminal law by threatening "HanAssholeSolo".
(1/3) Another relevant crim law: NY § 135.60: "A person is guilty of coercion in the second degree when he…induces a person…" https://t.co/ChxqocuDgc— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 5, 2017
(2/3) "to abstain from engaging in conduct in which he…has a legal right to engage…by means of instilling…a fear…the actor will…" https://t.co/ChxqocuDgc— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 5, 2017
(3/3)"Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule." https://t.co/ChxqocuDgc— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 5, 2017
CNN denies that the user is a teenager, instead claiming that he is an "adult male."
"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 network wrote in a follow-up post.