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CNN Blackmail: Massive Backlash After Network Threatens Reddit User

July 5th 2017

CNN HQ logo

CNN found itself ensnared in yet another ethical quagmire on Wednesday after a young reporter apparently tracked down the creator of a mock video tweeted by President Donald Trump and extracted an apology from him.

The Reddit user created the controversial animated GIF that showed Trump body-slamming a man at a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) match. The man in the original video was Vince McMahon, the former president of WWE and a personal friend to Trump. In the mock video, the CNN logo was in place of McMahon’s head.

Trump tweeted the video on Sunday, and CNN reacted with outrage. CNN and other journalists claimed the tweet from Trump was not mockery but rather that Trump was encouraging violence against reporters.

It didn't stop there. CNN's "KFile" unit tracked down the Reddit user by examining his posts. CNN contacted the man. The man then issued an apology.

And again, CNN did not stop there.

In a July Fourth story laced with editorial comment, CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski seemed to boast of the apology he got after it became clear the Reddit user could be outed publicly.

The apology appears to have come as the Reddit user knew CNN was trying to contact him at home.

Kaczynski wrote that CNN would not name him, showing journalistic mercy.

"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," wrote Kaczynski, the head of the "KFile" unit.

But then Kaczynski did something that shocked readers. He seemed to issue a threat against the Reddit user, in case the Reddit user ever reappeared on social media. In a remarkable use of its raw power to bully people, CNN admitted it would out the man if he posted objectionable material again.

"CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change," Kaczynski wrote.

The backlash was immediate and powerful.

Readers and viewers questioned the newsworthiness of CNN tracking down the GIF creator.

#CNNBlackmail began trending on Twitter.

Donald Trump Jr. mocked CNN on Twitter for the story.

The issue also began to percolate on talk shows.

"Their intention was to send a message," said writer Tammy Bruce on "Fox and Friends" Wednesday morning. "They could destroy someone like that . . . And that was the message . . . And this of course proves Donald Trump's point ... That the American people cannot trust what [the media] ultimately end up doing."

Byron York, a reporter at the Washington Examiner, said CNN was definitely sending a message.

"This guy has posted offensive posts about unrelated subjects in the past," York said Wednesday on "The Laura Ingraham Show."

"And they basically threatened to out him if he doesn't behave in the future," York said. "And so CNN has kind of taken the role, kind of a quasi-judicial role here, of investigating this and threatening punishment unless the remorse is genuine and the behavior has stopped. So it's kind of taken a new turn, I think."

CNN's public relations department, still in a tailspin from two major corrections it had to issue about Trump and false ties to Russia, did not respond to a request for comment from LifeZette. Nor did Kaczynski.

Kaczynski, 28, is considered a rising star at CNN. He was hired away from Buzzfeed to help CNN conduct online investigations at which Kaczynski was good. But Buzzfeed’s culture is more Gawker than CNN, and Kaczynski apparently felt that in CNN’s anti-Trump environs, he had a target-rich environment where he could apply the same Buzzfeed-type standards.

Kaczynski dug up allegations of plagiarism against two potential Trump appointees, Monica Crowley and Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee. Both withdrew from consideration, with Clarke calling Kaczynski an “online terrorist” who distorted his graduate work.

Kaczynski stayed on Twitter after the story hit, suggesting the anonymous “middle-aged” man had posted anti-CNN pictures in the past, including one that listed all the Jews who worked at CNN. That much is true.

But why CNN would use its power to keep the man off Reddit appears to be a journalistic ethics violation that even members of the Left and the liberal media could not tolerate.

German Lopez, a senior reporter at Vox, said CNN's behavior was unethical.

"I can't emphasize how bad this is on CNN's part. This is basically 'don't post stuff we don't like or we'll dox you,'" Lopez tweeted. "Extremely unethical."

Doxing is the public release of identifying information about an individual who intended to remain anonymous in a certain situation. The practice is considered unethical by most media outlets.

York said CNN had used its awesome media power to police speech.

"If you read the CNN article they posted late on Tuesday night — and it was a huge headline across their website — there was no doubt it was to them the most important story of the hour," York said. "If you read that, there is this sense that CNN has taken this judicial role, this prosecutorial role, and they essentially made a plea bargain with the offending party here. And you have to remember his offense was making a video mocking CNN."


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