Lately, it seems like CNN just can’t keep itself from becoming the news story. Today, social media erupted with accusations that CNN blackmailed the creator of an anti-CNN animated gif. In case you haven’t heard, CNN tracked down the creator of the animated image Donald Trump posted on Twitter last week depicting him clotheslining a person with CNN’s logo photoshopped on his head.
The network was able to identify the anonymous redditor who posted the image and called to confirm his identity. The poster apologized publicly, said he was simply trolling, and deleted his account. He then called CNN, confirmed his identity and requested the news organization not release his name. CNN obliged. Here’s where it gets tricky. In what the network claims was an effort to be transparent and show that no long-term agreement was made with the reddit user, the explanation for not releasing his name was as follows :
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. 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.
I’d like to give CNN the benefit of the doubt here, but that text looks like they’re making this private citizen an offer he can’t refuse.
Many in the media were quick to condemn Donald Trump for posting the image saying it was beneath the office of the president. Tracking down this user and indicating that his name would be released if he continues his trolling ways is beneath the dignity of a news organization, especially one with the resources of CNN.
Journalists have expressed concern about Donald Trump’s perceived war on the free press and we’ve often reminded our audiences that we are the champions of the first amendment. That same first amendment that protects the freedom of the press also protects the freedom of speech and expression for private citizens. CNN went too far.
The Supreme Court has upheld that anonymous speech and expression is covered by the constitution and that private citizens who choose to remain anonymous are protected. Going after a private citizen, whether it is out of curiosity or an attempt at doxxing them is not how journalists and news organizations should be spending their time. We should be protecting private citizens and scrutinizing government.
The Russia story that led to the resignations of three CNN staffers, the videos released by Project Veritas and these accusations of blackmail have further tarnished CNN’s reputation as a news source. Since CNN has become synonymous with “the media” as a whole, that damages an already strained relationship between the public and journalists.
If a news organization wants to speak truth to power and question authority, or if it feels legitimately threatened by a branch of the government, that is within that organization’s rights as a member of the press to question or “take on” that authority. Targeting private citizens for the purpose of public humiliation is not the way to go about this. Private citizens are the people the press should be looking out for.