What the hell were you thinking, CNN? – Washington Examiner

CNN has screwed up royally this time.

The news group published a report Tuesday, titled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF,” and we’re not even sure where to start.

But we’ll try:

CNN’s first mistake was the ethically dubious decision to hunt down the anonymous Reddit user behind the parody video of President Donald Trump pummeling a humanoid version of the CNN logo.

The problem here is that the story is not about the admitted Internet troll or his video, which was shared last week by the president himself. The story here is that there are people in the White House who trawl the Internet’s underbelly for weird and sometimes objectionable content, and that it’s being done on the taxpayers’ dime.

Though there’s some benefit to understanding people like “HanAssholeSolo,” the creator of the Trump pro-wrestling video, and his influence on members of the administration, they shouldn’t be the focus. Random people on the Internet are a sidebar to a much bigger story about the White House’s approach to online engagement.

CNN disagrees. Its report on the Reddit user was the lead story on its website for hours Wednesday morning.

This brings us to the network’s second mistake.

There may be some value to understanding people like “HanAssholeSolo,” but CNN should’ve recused itself from covering this specific Reddit user. Given that “HanAssholeSolo’s” video featured Trump pummeling the cable news network’s logo, CNN should’ve thought better about the optics of hunting down an online critic. Is this news or is this a vendetta?

This brings us to CNN’s third, and arguably biggest, misstep.

As bad as the premise of the article is, the following passage is worse: “CNN is not publishing ‘HanA**holeSolo’s’ name 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.”

“In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same,” it added.

The passage concluded with this unsettling line: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

As a first problem, consider the weird, off-putting tone. This sounds less like something written by a reporter, and more like something spoken by a moral authority, like some sort of old timey preacher.

Secondly, there’s the appearance that CNN wrestled an apology and a promise of good behavior from a stranger on the Internet.

“HanAssholeSolo” has indeed promised to change his ways, but his apology does CNN little favors, especially considering it reads like a coerced confession. Judge for yourself:

To people who troll on the Internet for fun, consider your words and actions conveyed in your message and who it might upset or anger. Put yourself in their shoes before you post it. … Don’t feed your own self-worth based upon inflicting suffering upon others online just because you are behind a keyboard.

Lastly, CNN appears to be dangling the threat of revealing “HanAssholeSolo’s” identity should he renege on his apology and slip back into what CNN characterized as “ugly behavior.”

Publishing what looks like an obvious threat to expose a private citizens’ identity is a very, very bad look for a professional newsroom.

The article’s author disagrees with the suggestion he wrangled a confession from “HanAssholeSolo.” However, it’s hard to get away from the fact that the author and at least one of his newsroom colleagues teased the story Tuesday by bragging the Reddit user apologized and deleted his account after he was contacted by CNN.

The author has also defended him story by explaining the anonymity passage has been badly misinterpreted.

“It was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity,” he explained on social.

The author added the Reddit user called him to say, “I am in total agreement with your statement. I was not threatened in any way.” This is starting to sound like a hostage crisis.

Even if the Reddit user apologized to CNN prior to the story’s publication, it doesn’t take away from the network’s other missteps.

CNN should have never allowed itself to get distracted from its focus on the White House’s love of weird Reddit content, which is the real story. It should have realized the inherent conflict of interest in covering a story about one of its online critics. The story’s editors also should have caught the anonymity passage and recognized it for its seemingly distasteful implications.

What were they thinking?

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