CNN Responds to 'Blackmail' Criticism

Network says criticism over wrestling video story is off-base
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2017 1:11 PM CDT
CNN: No, We Didn't 'Blackmail' Reddit User
In this 2007 photo, Donald Trump, left, stands before World Wrestling Entertainment boss Vince McMahon under the eye of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

CNN scored a news scoop when it tracked down and interviewed the maker of the gone-viral wrestling video featuring President Trump. The network didn't identify the Reddit user behind the video but reserved the right to do so with language that critics say amounted to blackmail. All of which prompted the network to issue a statement denying that on Wednesday: "Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false," it says, per Variety. It adds that "CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user. In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user's identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal." Background and related coverage:

  • Controversial passage: The original CNN story said the network had decided not to identify the man because "he is a private citizen" who had apologized for offensive posts and promised to stop making them. But "CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change."
  • The reaction: Critics pounced, making #CNNBlackmail a top-trending topic on Twitter. One high-profile example, from Julian Assange: "A multi-billion dollar TV network blackmailing a private citizen into not making funny videos about it is not journalism, CNN," he tweeted. Kim Dotcom also joined in.
  • 'Misinterpreted': The author of the CNN story, Andrew Kaczynski, tweeted that the line about CNN reserving the right to publish the Redditor's identity was "being misinterpreted. It was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity." He also tweeted that "to say we threatened anyone is a total lie," adding that the Redditor himself called to say he was "in total agreement" with CNN's statement and that he was "not threatened in [any way]."
  • Different GIF? An analysis at BuzzFeed suggests that Trump didn't tweet the exact video from this Reddit user. Instead, someone appears to have downloaded the original, improved it (with music, for example), and posted it someplace where Trump or an aide saw it.
  • The wording: A post at New York has a suggestion for how CNN could have avoided this mess by shortening its original explanation.
  • The Redditor: He has since deleted not only his apology but his Reddit profile. One storyline spreading among CNN's critics (including, notably, Donald Trump Jr.) is that he's only 15, but Kaczysnki says he's actually a middle-aged man. In the apology, the Redditor said previous posts of his deemed anti-Semitic, racist, or offensive in other ways were just his attempts to draw a reaction from people. (You can still read the apology via BuzzFeed.)
  • Deeper dive: The Washington Post assesses the whole controversy, pointing out that some critics were calling "for a very personal form of revenge against CNN, and Kaczynski specifically," and posting personal-ID details about the reporter, his family, and colleagues at CNN.
(More CNN stories.)

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