CNN’s response has been less than ideal to President Trump’s bizarre tweet that featured him wrestling against their network’s logo. It increasingly seems, both through the network’s actions and those of the president, that a dangerous rift has opened between the highest office in the land and those who cover that office.
CNN made one big mistake in covering this story. That mistake wasn’t tracking down the creator of the video the president promoted, it was not revealing the name of that Internet troll, who has no right to anonymity and shouldn’t expect it.
Many in the conservative media have objected to what they see as the “doxxing” of that Redditor, HanA**holeSolo (HAS). They portray him as a poor little voice on the Internet who never asked for this kind of scrutiny. In fairness, CNN’s offer he couldn’t refuse, to hide his identity so long as he stops posting offensive memes, is intimidation and akin to blackmail. So, CNN basically had two choices: reveal HAS’s identity or protect it.
A Man Should Be Known By His Deeds
The choice of an awkward middle ground that holds the sword of doxxing over HAS’s head was apparently a compromise after it became clear that HAS was responsible for racist and anti-Semitic memes and posts. One particularly grotesque example featured prominent employees at CNN with Stars of David next to their headshots. It seems HAS is worried that if his identity is revealed, it could ruin his life. He should have considered that before engaging in bigoted Internet posting.
In an apology HAS claims that he doesn’t even hold the views he was espousing on Reddit. He was just doing it for laughs, or something, then got addicted to the attention. That story may have warmed the cockles of CNN’s heart and led to its extortive mercy, but it does not change my opinion that HAS sowed seeds of bigotry and hatred and deserves to reap the reputation that comes with such actions.
In asking which of the two reasonable courses CNN should have taken, there are four basic questions to be answered. Was CNN covering a legitimate story? Is the identity of HAS relevant to that story? Is there any ethical or legal reason CNN may not reveal his identity? And is there any value in revealing his identity? Let’s review them in turn.
Does The Story Matter?
The basis for tracking down the creator of the CNN wresting GIF was CNN’s desire, shared by other outlets, to determine where the president of the United States procures his Twitter troll material. It is certainly possible that President Trump simply stumbled upon it one night watching cable news and fuming while scrolling through the posts of his millions of Twitter admirers. One can almost see the wry, “You’re fired” smile creep across his lips as he considered the mayhem sharing the GIF would unleash.
If this had been an isolated incident, it would be tempting to say that the president just shared a meme, had no idea where it came from, and has no responsibility to check. But it isn’t an isolated incident. Throughout the campaign and into his presidency, Trump has shared and retweeted material from straight-up white nationalists and anti-Semites. It was absolutely appropriate for news outlets to investigate if this had happened again. That it apparently did should call into question the president’s judgment.
But Do We Need to Name Names?
Having determined that the source of the dank meme is a legitimate story, we must ask if the identity of original poster is relevant to that story. After all, CNN could have simply said it was created by a Reddit user with a history of bigoted posts and left it at that. This would have left us with an image of a fat old KKK member in his basement with his Confederate flags and Nazi memorabilia.
But as it turns out, at least according to his apology, HAS is some kind of upstanding citizen, who is “in no way this kind of person,” and “love[s] and accept[s] people of all walks of life.” That’s touching, and relevant. We hear so often that the racist roots of Trump support amount to nothing more than a handful of David Duke acolytes. But if the guy next door is sh*tposting about the media being run by Jews who hate Trump, that’s important and scary.
Is It Okay To Reveal His Name?
Some have argued that HAS has some right to free speech or privacy that would be infringed upon if CNN revealed his identity. This is stuff and nonsense. There is no right to anonymity for people who post bigoted material on the Internet and fail to cover their tracks. As to free speech, sure, HAS is free to post what he chooses, but news outlets are just as free to track him down and expose him.
HAS posted his offensive content to get attention, attention he claims he got addicted to. Well, thanks to the president, he got it. Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Solo. In an age in which the president’s tweets can trump mainstream news coverage, the creators of those tweets are no longer just private citizens with an opinion, they are producers of public content. They are the media as much as CNN is, and as much as I am.
Is There Value In Revealing His Identity?
In any normal age, like say, three years ago, the revelation that the president was sharing content from bigots would be incredibly damaging. It would be akin to President Obama, accidently or not, favorably quoting an online promoter of Hamas. But things are far from normal, and the president sharing content from guys in armbands has become de rigeur.
In this new age, power is shifting away from the established media towards social media personalities and trolls. Ironically, some of the same people reveling in the revolution that has made social media as powerful as the “news” are the ones claiming HAS is just a private citizen who should be left alone to insult Jews and Muslims in peace. Sorry, when the president shares your meme with 30 million followers, you become the story.
Importantly, revealing HAS’s identity would also serve as a warning to those who think they can harass and insult people through bigoted posts. HAS would have us believe he is a nice guy who just got swept up in the fun of racism. Maybe that’s true, but it might be even worse than actually holding such beliefs.
Surely, part of the fun was thinking he wouldn’t be caught, like risky sex. The thought of being revealed fuels the adrenaline rush. But he did get caught. And others tempted to engage in this kind of behavior should know that it comes with consequences.
HAS Is Not a Hero
The worst possible result of this kerfuffle is that we valorize HAS’s disgusting actions by painting him as a victim of the big corporate media. That is a ridiculous claim. His actions are his actions; nobody forced him to do anything. These weren’t private emails to friends for giggles; these were public posts.
The best thing CNN can do now is reveal HAS’s identity. Let us have the interviews with the neighbors about how shocked they are, how he was quiet and unassuming, how they never imagined he could be like this.
Let his public shaming be a lesson to those who think they can intimidate others behind the Internet’s cone of silence. Bigotry of the type HAS employed has moved beyond the fringes. We need to understand who is promoting this kind of material and why. The first step in that exploration is to make it clear that when possible, those who make this terrible choice will be called out and forced to answer for it.