— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
On Saturday, July 2, President Donald Trump posted to Twitter a video of him fake-punching then body-slamming a man with the CNN logo superimposed over his head, accompanied by the hashtags “#FraudNewsCNN” and “#FNN“.
The doctored video used footage from a 2007 appearance Trump made on World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) where he body-slammed WWE president Vince McMahon, placing the CNN logo over McMahon’s face.
Two days later, on the evening of July 4, the CNN homepage was led by the following headline: “After being contacted by CNN, Reddit user whose video Trump tweeted apologizes.”
CNN managed to track down the real-life identity of the video’s creator, Reddit user HanAssholeSolo, after he took credit for making the video, apparently targeting him and demanding an apology after seeing he had a history of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks on various websites. Subsequently, the user apologized for the video along with other surfaced posts of a racist and anti-Semitic nature.
In a since-deleted Reddit post, HanAssholeSolo apologized and said he did not support “any violence against anyone.” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski said the Redditor later called CNN to apologize even further after the cable network tracked down the user through his Facebook account and other biographical data the user had shared on Reddit.
Kaczynski opted not to identify the user, citing the following reason:
“..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.”
But Kaczynski then added that “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change,” seeming to indicate that CNN would identify the user if he repeats his “ugly behavior” on social media.
This caveat was widely criticized on social media, with many users interpreting the sentence as a threat — CNN had threatened to dox someone for making an animated GIF with its logo in it. On Wednesday morning, the hashtag #CNNBlackmail started trending on Twitter as a response to the article.
A multi-billion dollar TV network blackmailing a private citizen into not making funny videos about it is not journalism, CNN. #CNNBlackmail
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) July 5, 2017
Kaczynski, who disputed this characterization, seemed especially upset that the Reddit user “was someone who shared an image of CNN reporters’ face with Stars of David next them.”
Kaczynski stated that the Reddit user’s public apology came after CNN identified and reached out to him.
Kaczynski used Twitter to defend the outlet’s decision, writing that the line meant only that the network had not promised to keep the user’s identity a secret. After some accused CNN of threatening to dox a minor, Kaczynski also clarified that HanAssholeSolo was a middle-age man.
CNN may have actually committed a federal felony, having acted in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 241 in relation to the 1st Amendment, specifically statutes 135.60 (1), (5) and (9).
The law states:
If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same;…
They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
Additionally, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) took to Twitter to cite Georgia state law’s prohibition against “theft by extortion”:
“Troubling. I assume CNN’s lawyers are examining GA § 16-8-16 Theft by extortion. If CNN constructively obtained the gif-maker’s IP…it’s a GA crime if they threatened to ‘Disseminate any information tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule….’”
CNN has adamantly defended its handling of the situation, issuing a statement Wednesday claiming the network did not publish the user’s name out of concern for his safety:
“Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false.”
In the statement, CNN said the team published the line in question to be “transparent that there was no deal.”