Social media users, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and several prominent pundits, accused the network of threatening to reveal the identity of a man behind the video, which the president shared last week.
The doctored video shows Trump wrestling an individual whose head has been replaced with the CNN logo. Trump, who has had a long-running feud with the news network, tweeted “#FraudNewsCNN” under the video.
Since then, the man who made the video was revealed to be a Reddit user who goes by the name “HanAssholeSolo.”
Journalist Jared Yates Sexton found that the video had originated from the Reddit thread “Trump takes down fake news” ― and noted HanAssholeSolo’s history of sharing racist and anti-Semitic comments and images. Sexton later said he has received death threats for sharing that information.
CNN’s KFile then tracked down who was behind that Reddit account and reached out to him.
That man, who initially reveled in the president’s attention by indicating how “honored” he was that the “MAGA EMPORER himself” shared his post, has now deleted his Reddit account and issued a lengthy apology to say he is “in no way this kind of person.”
But some CNN critics say the network coerced HanAssholeSolo into apologizing by threatening to “dox” him, or reveal his true identity. As of Wednesday morning, the hashtag #CNNBlackmail was trending on Twitter ― with many people citing CNN’s statement that it wouldn’t reveal the Redditor’s name because “he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology” but that “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
Both Democrats and Republicans have addressed the problem with CNN’s wording.
KFile’s Andrew Kaczynski responded to the backlash by saying the line is “being misinterpreted.”
“It was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity,” he tweeted.
CNN officially responded to the trending hashtag by saying the network decided not to publish HanAssholeSolo’s real name “out of concern for his safety” and explained the decision to withhold his identity “in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”
The backlash against CNN reflects increasingly polarized public attitudes toward the media. Trump was openly hostile to the press on the campaign trail, mocking a journalist with a disability and encouraging violence against the media at his rallies. As president, he’s continued the adversarial relationship, casting reporters as unfair in their characterizations of him and calling the media an “enemy of the American people.” The majority of his supporters later said they viewed the media as their enemy.
Further confusing this situation are statements from pundits like Dana Loesch, who defended HanAssholeSolo with an eyebrow-raising reference:
Loesch, a conservative talk radio host frequently featured on The Blaze, used a line from what is arguably the most famous anti-Nazi poem of all time to defend a person who posted anti-Semitic and racist memes.
The “media’s new defense,” she added, is that “if you don’t agree with [the GIF maker] being doxed then you share his anti-Semitic views.”
It was Trump, however, who chose to share the video and thus expose it to the media scrutiny that comes with any statement from a U.S. president. And it directly impacts the American people if Trump draws ammunition for his opinions from unreliable, racist or anti-Semitic sources.
Additionally, as someone who is influential, Loesch is perpetuating Trump’s narrative that the media is the enemy.
Perhaps the most ironic part of this entire saga is that when HanAssholeSolo issued his apology, he opposed the growing backlash against the media.
“I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted and anti-Semitic... I do not advocate violence against the press,” he said.
He also added:
“This has been an extreme wake up call to always consider how others may think or feel about what is being said before clicking the submit button anywhere online that an opinion is allowed. [T]rolling is nothing more than bullying a wide audience.”