CNN and The Search For A Self-Affirming Principle: A Response To Kirsten Powers

200px-Cnn.svgI recently wrote about my concern over the publication by CNN of a statement that it had identified the man responsible for a satiric wrestling video that was reposted by President Donald Trump.  CNN declared that the man had removed not just the video but other material deemed offensive or “ugly” by the networks. In light of his actions, CNN said that it would not reveal his identity — for now.  The clear message was that CNN reserved that right to disclose the man’s identity if he resumed posting material deemed ugly by the network.  Many of us objected to CNN’s language and rationale as inimical to journalistic standards and free speech.  CNN analyst Kirsten Powers insisted that such concerns are groundless and that CNN acted entirely appropriately.  She specifically responded to my column in USA Today raising these concerns.  Both Powers and I are contributors to USA Today.

Before responding to Powers’ arguments, it is important to repeat what CNN actually said (and later what I actually said):

“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.

CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Many of us saw that statement as high-handed, judgmental, and threatening.  CNN clearly stated that it was not releasing the man’s identity because he had shown sufficient remorse and promised that “he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again.”  CNN further says that it has not published his name because his apology “could serve as an example to others not to do the same.”  It then reserves the right to disclose his name “should any of that change.”

All of that seems quite unambiguous and clearly inappropriate.  It is hard to know where to start.  The news story dealt with a videotape snatched out of obscurity by the President. Yet, CNN ties its decision to the poster stripping a variety of postings deemed ugly.  More importantly, it clearly says that it based its actions on its satisfaction with the removal of the material and that fact that this would be a warning to others “not to do the same.”  The “same” what?  Posting things deemed “ugly” or insulting to the media or just insulting to CNN? If CNN is going to get into the business of withholding names based on its desire to send messages or force redemptive conduct, it should at least be clear.  Finally, CNN did not simply say that it might release the man’s name if it became news.  It said it could release it “should any of that change.”  The “that” was his showing remorse, stripping postings deemed “ugly”, and serving as an example to others.

Powers does not address any of that language, but she does repeatedly state that I accused CNN of “being a ‘censor.'”  In reality, I said that CNN was  “behaving like a media censor.” (The title selected by USA Today also referred to “censor” but, as Powers must know, we do not pick our titles as columnists).  There is a difference.  I would never call CNN an actual censor because it did not directly remove material or even had the authority to do so.  The column stated that this type of threat created a chilling effect on speech and used CNN’s position as a media organization to shape or deter speech.

While Powers insists that “there are consequences to our speech,” she fails to mention that I stated repeatedly that CNN would have been within its right to publish the name as news.  What it did not have the right to do is to use the threat of publishing news to create a type of probationary status for a citizen. One can easily debate the culpability of this Reddit poster who merely mocked CNN – a video that took on a more sinister meaning with the President’s reposting.

Powers’ column reveals the very relativistic view that prompted my column.  She generously states that anonymity has a place in free speech and “We don’t want to discourage that.”  Of course, you can hear the “but” coming down the railroad tracks after a comment like that:

“But in a mature society, we should be able to distinguish the person trying to be a participant in the political system from a person who uses their anonymity to viciously target and attack people based on their race or religion.”

That sounds a lot like CNN’s “mature” view that we will not “out” you unless you write something we deem offensive.  My view, stated in the earlier column, is that the man’s identity became news when his work was re-posted.  His video was a fairly typical satire from on the left and the right on Reddit.  Trump made him news.  However, in my view, CNN should publish his name solely on the basis of whether it is news — not his promise to reform and his continued good behavior.  If his name is not news today, what does it matter if he uses his anonymity to post objectionable or even hateful views?  Will Powers and CNN apply the same standard to the millions of others posting such views, including some with high rates of “likes” or repostings?

Moreover, Powers refers to attacks based on race or religion. However, the notoriety of this man was a videotape that had a clear political content. CNN then proclaimed that the man had removed a variety things that it deemed “ugly.” Either the man’s other postings were news or it was not. CNN has no license to leverage news coverage based on changes in conduct by critics.

Yet, Powers insists that such leverage should be used based solely on whether it would work – not whether it changes the role of a news organization. Powers says that if she ran a company and felt that a poster was trying “to incite anti-Semitic rancor,” she could threaten the poster to “cease and desist from this kind of behavior.” She added “If releasing their identity was my only leverage, I would use it.” That certainly makes all of this simpler as a matter of journalistic ethics. It is merely about whether it would work. It is the ends not the means that is the focus of the analysis.

Of course, this is the worst form of consequentialism and, in my view, the very antithesis of ethics in justifying the means by the ends of one’s actions. Journalism is all about the means in how and why you report stories.  Principles require you to do something that may not be to your advantage. If CNN declared that the man’s name was not news, there would have been no controversy. Likewise, if it declared that the news value did not out weigh the possible harm that could befall the man, most of us would have undersood and even supported the decision. Instead, CNN listed a serious of actions and said that it wanted this to be a lesson to others. It then said that it would reserve publication based on future good behavior.

Notably, CNN has not followed the recommended course of Powers who not only wanted the name released, but seems to take the view that all is fair in dealing with posters deemed offensive or vicious. What is missing in such an approach is principle. That is the one thing a news organization cannot do without.


71 thoughts on “CNN and The Search For A Self-Affirming Principle: A Response To Kirsten Powers”

  1. CNN may once have had journalistic principles, but they abandoned them a long time ago. Back in 2015, for example, they gave Trump huge amounts of coverage at a time when virtually no one considered him a serious candidate because it was good for their ratings. By doing so, they helped turn Trump into a serious candidate, which is why it is so deliciously ironic to see Trump broadsiding them every chance he gets. I’m no Trump fan, but it is exactly what CNN so richly deserves.

  2. CNN and its anchors are playing with fire when it threaten to dox a Redditor.
    Just as easily and gleefully and skillfully, Redditors w/o malice would probably just for fun dox the anchors’ phone #s,addresses,maybe embarassing personal information too.

  3. CNN may have committed a crime, however, they definitely committed a tort. I’m surprised that a conservative group hasn’t approached the blogger with an offer of legal representation.

  4. JT is far too deferential to law school dropout/political hack, Kirsten Powers, whose claim to fame is apparently parlaying her Democratic political work into the inevitable nonprofit job. The real irony is the ol’ KP claims to have written a book entitled “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.” Maybe she’s trying to live out the story.

  5. If this is part of a strategic plan it is brilliant. Instead of spending campaign funds to message, all that is necessary is to use the authoritarian weight of the media against itself. Call it political judo.

    Once the party of the young, the Democratic party is now miles behind in terms of messaging — not because the official GOP has a much better slogan than “I mean, have you seen the other guys?” but because it is able to leave the messaging to teenage masters of the language of the Web.

      1. Thanks Autumn. You know what they say about pointing your finger, you have 3 pointing back at you? Well, they’ve become 3 times worse than whomever they attack. They are the Nothing-Burger Party(NBP).

        1. Olly, I LOVE it: the NBP – I will share it with the few remaining hilbot friends associates I have left – always the hope they will open their eyes (minds). And the Indies will love it of course.

  6. The sourcing Linda does is typical of low-level thinking. Wikipedia and all the left wing fact checkers along with evidence that regurgitates the same evidence in a circular pattern where nothing new is added.

    What do we know.
    Seth Rich was killed.
    A police investigation was performed that is questioned
    The scene wasn’t conclusive of a robbery
    Seth Rich and DNC 53,000 emails have a link
    A lot of the people in government at that time were doing a lot of lying.
    Julian Assange made some comments that demonstrate a potential link
    The killer(s) have yet to be found and one wonders if the police are even bothering to look.

    Seth Rich’s murder is unsolved and the alternative theory has not been debunked. Powerful people can get away with a lot of things including murder.

  7. It seems to me that all CNN and it’s crew of rabid reporters has accomplished is taking a meme that most people didn’t give a second thought too and made it first page news. Not to mention that suddenly there are more memes about POTUS beating up CNN than you could watch in a 24 hr. period. So all they’ve accomplished is to make themselves and their reporters a laughing stock in the eyes of the world.

  8. CNN, and the Main Stream Press, is kind of like the music industry. When mp3’s and downloads from the Internet pretty much destroyed their near monopoly business model, the Music Industry resorted to lawsuits and intimidation tactics to scare people off file sharing sites. Remember those million dollar lawsuits against college students? Plus, the Music Industry got government to pass draconian laws to help them preserve their control thru the courts.

    Similarly, the MSM has lost control of its near monopoly of the news. Now, they are going thru their intimidation and belligerence phase. Government and Elites prefer to control the narrative, and the MSM has been their eager and willing accomplice in this. Which is why you are now seeing the calls to amend the 1st Amendment to prevent “hate” speech, and “mean” speech. In other words, draconian changes in the law to protect them, and their business model. Which, has worked pretty well in Europe.

    Which is what Kirsten Powers is calling for here- – – CONTROL.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  9. Kirsten Powers et al.

    Are we surprised at the incoherence and hysteria affirmative action has wrought?

    Sir Walter Scott –

    “Oh! what a tangled web we weave

    When first we practise to deceive!”

    How was it that the American Founders were immutably convinced that EVERYONE understood,

    without question, that women and poor people must and would never be allowed vote?

    The Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights were not expected to succeed

    without honor, morality and DISCIPLINE.


    I hope that Brother DNC and all of their clones collapse from within sooner than later, it’s beyond absurd at this point. Hopefully sanity and *genuine* understanding can arise from the ashes.

  11. Publish the names, home addresses, and working hours and daily travel patterns of every CNN reporter and contributor. See how they react.

  12. CNN founder Ted Turner still has the hots for Jane Fonda. Ted says he was use to winning & lost everything. But he still has $1 or $2 Billion left.

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