CNN is facing escalating backlash after publishing a controversial article on a Reddit user.
The incident started earlier this week, when President Trump tweeted a GIF showing himself knocking out someone digitally labeled “CNN,” an image that many took as an endorsement of violence against the media.
On Reddit, a user named “HanAssholeSolo” took credit for the GIF, saying he was “honored” that “the MAGA EMPORER himself” had tweeted it. Racist posts from the account were soon uncovered, the latest in a series of incidents where a Trump tweet was linked to racist internet users.
In a now-deleted post on Reddit’s r/The_Donald, Solo later apologized for his behavior. “I am in no way this kind of person, I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life,” he wrote. “I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life, I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts.”
But in an article published yesterday, CNN wrote that, just prior to Solo’s post, the organization had determined Solo’s identity by piecing together information he’d previously posted online. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski wrote that the organization would not publish Solo’s identity, however, as “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.” Still, Kaczynski wrote, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
The seemingly conditional statement about revealing the user’s identity became a flashpoint, with prominent — and largely, but not exclusively, right-wing — accounts accusing CNN of “blackmail.” Kaczynski defended the line, saying it had been “misinterpreted” and “was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity.”
By Wednesday, the hashtag #CNNBlackmail was trending, and Twitter was awash with false information. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that CNN had “bullied” a “15-year-old” — despite Kaczynski flatly denying that Solo was a teenager.
The story has now escalated into harassment from racist websites like The Daily Stormer, which published an article saying it would “track down” the family members of CNN employees for “comment” on “criminal associations.” Prominent alt-right personality Mike Cernovich wrote on Twitter that a “protest” in front of Kaczynski’s home was planned. Reddit users, meanwhile, sent a swastika to the front page of the site, in a dubiously effective attempt to have the image appear next to CNN in Google Images.
In a statement released today, CNN said it declined to release Solo’s name “out of concern for his safety,” and said the user had apologized before speaking with reporters. “Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false,” CNN wrote, adding that it “included its decision to withhold the user’s identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”