CNN and Andrew Kaczynski, head of the network’s Republican oppo research unit “KFILE,” gave a misleading defense after receiving an intense backlash to a Sunday night post boasting that he had tracked down and identified a man who claimed credit for a gif shared by President Donald Trump — and that CNN may reveal his identity if the man chooses to “repeat this ugly behavior.”
Reddit user “u/HanAssholeSolo” posted an apology to CNN and journalists at the raucous pro-Trump subreddit “r/The_Donald” earlier in the evening, saying he did not create the specific WWE-themed video that Trump tweeted. Kaczynski, in a story titled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF,” revealed that this individual posted the apology after the CNN reporter had discovered his identity and sent him an email asking to talk.
Dozens of celebrities, commentators, politicians, and journalists criticized the network, all across the political spectrum — from Donald Trump Jr. to YouTuber Philip DeFrancoto WikiLeaks to anti-Gamergate stalwart Brianna Wu. The hashtag #CNNBlackmail became the number one trending topic on Twitter, with many critics calling the sentence about CNN “reserving the right” to release the man’s name as a “threat” to “dox” him.
A representative for CNN did not respond to clarify whether the man, according to Kaczynski, “called us to apologize further” after the story was published with the language that many readers perceived as a threat.
The network released a statement echoing Kaczynski’s defense, saying that the man “apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter.” The statement does not admit that the man likely knew he had been identified by a CNN reporter — and could potentially be outed — before he wrote his apology.
Still others pointed to CNN producer Donie O’Sullivan seemingly celebrating Kaczynski’s piece and New Day anchor Chris Cuomo asking if the network should publish the man’s identity — claiming that their language suggested a company-wide intent to intimidate or punish the Reddit user.
The network is under fire as critics assert that Kaczynski failed to establish the newsworthiness of the story. The network’s statement does not answer this concern, and representatives for CNN have not responded to a request for comment at the time of this publication.
Kaczynski’s post was only the latest part of a campaign by the network to attack “HanAssholeSolo” and to tarnish Trump supporters (and the president himself) by association. Breitbart’s Tony Lee wrote:
Outlets like CNN searched the user’s posting history and tried to make the case that the wrestling meme may be “racist” and “anti-semitic.” A White House official told media outlets that the video Trump tweeted was not pulled from Reddit. The reporter (Jared Yates Sexton) who first revealed the Reddit user’s racist postings said he received death threats after he published his findings before promptly blaming Trump for the “hateful environment.”
“This environment is the creation of the man in the White House,” he tweeted.
The Reddit user apologized to the reddit community and for previous posts that were admittedly “racist, bigoted, and [anti-semitic].”
“HanAssholeSolo” also said the post was “in no way advocating” violence “in any way, shape or form” and emphasized that the original post is not what ended up on Trump’s Twitter feed.
At the time of this writing, the article is not featured on the page for Kaczynski’s “KFILE” vertical.