OPINION: CNN threat to unmask Trump WWE meme creator spells another media disaster
© CNN

Another day, another controversy for CNN as it continues arguably its toughest public relations stretch in its 37-year history.

Today’s Exhibit A is an implied threat by the network to reveal the identity of a guy who created a comical video showing the president “wrestling” a CNN logo using old footage of Trump making a cameo at a WWE event in 2007.

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“He [the video creator] 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,” the story, titled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF,” reads.

“CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change,” it adds.

The last line that basically says, “If you cross us again we’ll tell the world who you are,” and it led to #CNNblackmail being a top trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday. This appears to not be criticism breaking down by party lines, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a statement to The Hill, CNN said it decided not to publish the Reddit user’s name out of concern for his safety.

“Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false,” it said. “The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter. CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user,” it added. “In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user’s identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”

It’s hard to disagree with any of this sentiment. Think about it: an international multibillion dollar news organization with the resources of Time Warner said it reserves the right to publish his identity should his “ugly behavior” on social media changes.

Is the video creator a bad person? His posts also include anti-Semitic material aimed at CNN. Nobody is defending that. But if we’re going to have news organizations policing the internet for ugly material, we’re going into a bottomless pit and away from good journalism.

Also, here’s a question: why would an apology from the video creator be the reason the network isn’t revealing his identity?

The only way that reads is like this: play by our rules, don’t mock us, and we’ll leave you alone. Cross us and be prepared to be unmasked.

You have to wonder how AT&T, which announced its intention to merge with Time Warner last year, is viewing all of this. CNN is fully aware of the stakes around the merger, which is why they essentially fired three decorated, veteran reporters last week for getting one story wrong on Russia and Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci last week.

Perception of the network is huge right now. The organization can ill afford another PR disaster. This implied threat to unmask a private citizen is already shaping up to be another one.

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.