If you’re going to create nasty memes to get attention, demand people give you credit for those memes and celebrate when the president of the United States shares one with his roughly 33 million followers, I have no sympathy for you. You’re not a martyr for the cause of free expression. There was a time when anonymity allowed Americans with unpopular or unconventional beliefs to make their arguments without fear of retribution. Today, the internet has created an environment that incentivizes people to create detestable messages meant to troll and harass.
Then again, this story isn’t really about online harassment or the Reddit user “HanA**holeSolo,” who has taken credit for the creation a GIF of President Trump body-slamming a wrestler — which I feel the need to reiterate is fake violence — with a CNN logo imposed on his face. The story itself means little. This is about how places like CNN function these days: how it overreacts to everything the president does, how many of today’s newsrooms give some people a pass and destroy others.
The search for HanA**holeSolo began before anyone knew he was responsible for anti-Semitic or bigoted posts. CNN tracked down his identity because he had committed thought crimes, the worst of which was mocking CNN. The story was meant to tie a Trump tweet mocking CNN to a hateful meme maker and blow up.
That’s because news organizations have become obsessed with fighting Trump rather than covering him. For all the sanctimonious self-championing of the importance of journalism in the Trump era, stories like these have no real purpose. This piece didn’t educate viewers on the underbelly of social media, or the habits of the president, or anything else. It wasn’t an argument over ideas or policy. It wasn’t entertainment. It was a story birthed from the hysterics that erupted over a silly meme Trump retweeted.
What CNN has done is induce some random troll to grovel and apologize for his wrongthink. Even if we concede that there’s a good reason to track down a meme maker on Reddit, why doesn’t the network run the name? Without the name, in fact, there is no real story.
CNN claims it kept the poster’s anonymity to protect his safety. Is it saying that anti-Trump activists will hurt the man? Is it saying that there should be no repercussion for things we say? Is this protection afforded all Americans? Moreover, the piece itself (and the on-air personalities at CNN) disputes the idea that his name was withheld to protect safety. It is clear that if HanA**holeSolo had responded to CNN by saying, “No, I’m not sorry, losers,” he would have been outed.
“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,” said a CNN piece. Should HanA**holeSolo ever revert to his nefarious meme-making ways, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
This is a threat. There is simply no other way for an open-minded person to comprehend the meaning of the line. I’ve read thousands of news stories and written a bunch of them, and I can’t think of a single instance of a similar disclaimer. CNN has absolved the man of his sins — for now. I guess if HanA**holeSolo does anything it deems ugly, the network reserves the right to put him in “danger”?
In a now-deleted tweet, CNN’s oft-confused Chris Cuomo asked: “Should CNN reveal name of Reddit user who made trump wrestling video? Had a lot of bigoted and hateful material on page and website.”
Let’s chew on this question and assertion for a moment. For one thing, although Cuomo happens to be correct in this case, I don’t trust his definition of hate or bigotry. Moreover, are journalistic standards contingent upon the target’s political views? If HanA**holeSolo were to have the wrong opinion on same-sex marriage or affirmative action, would that be enough to ruin his life? What if he sincerely apologized for these transgressions? Someone should ask Cuomo what the standard should be.
It’s important to remember that this entire controversy sprung from the hysterics surrounding a juvenile presidential tweet. Since the tweet, I have watched many journalists act as if Trump called the Gestapo into action. This only a few weeks after an out-and-loud progressive taken in by the frenzy of the day attempted to assassinate Republican congressional leadership, a story most journalists dropped quicker than the middling Trump Twitter troll.
No, this isn’t a First Amendment issue. Just because one of the nation’s most powerful journalistic institutions has the power to track down and ruin the lives of random Reddit users doesn’t mean it should. And just because it can coerce apologies, implicitly or explicitly, doesn’t mean it should. At the very least, it’s an abuse of its power and a waste of its resources.
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