CNN’s Probationary Order To Reddit Poster Raises Serious Journalistic Concern

200px-Cnn.svgBelow is my column in USA Today on the controversy surrounding CNN’s handling of the creator of the Trump wrestling video.  The episode shows the deepening tension between CNN and Trump.  CNN has increasingly positioned itself as part of the “resistance” while Trump has used CNN as embodiment of all that is wrong with the media.  While Trump has said that CNN has done itself serious damage in the controversy, polls show almost 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance as President.  While ratings have been up and more people trust CNN rather than Trump, CNN’s journalistic image has been damaged in the relentless anti-Trump rhetoric from both political and legal contributors.  Even under the recent poll, some 43 percent trust Trump more and CNN’s ratings continue to roller coaster. Ironically, CNN needs Trump and Trump needs CNN to continue their respective narratives. However, neither is a promising foundation for either a political or journalistic enterprise.  It is a case of mutually assured destruction.

Here is the column:

CNN has reported that it has confirmed the identity of the creator of the controversial video that shows President Trump taking down someone with the CNN logo for a head. Like many, I was highly critical of the president for reposting the video on his Twitter account. That was both irresponsible and unpresidential.

DDwVlIxWAAAdXTpWhat is curious is that CNN has withheld the creator’s identity while making a thinly veiled threat that it will release his name if he posts anything CNN finds disturbing or offensive. That is an odd role for a news organization. The news media do not usually put citizens on probation for exercising their free speech.

CNN announced that it had identified the Reddit user “HanA**holeSolo” who first shared the video that Trump reposted with the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN. CNN said the man also posted images with racist and anti-Semitic imagery. He issued a long apology and removed all of the images.

“I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life. I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on Reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts,” he wrote. He said he was engaging in what he thought was satire or trolling fun on Reddit.

downloadLike the poster, I am a fan of Reddit, which is known for its open forum and varied viewpoints. It is often caustic and funny. At times, it is offensive and disturbing. However, it is a genuine and largely uninhibited forum for free expression.

The Trump video by the Reddit user was a typical satire on contemporary political events. It is not even clear whether it was meant as a celebration or a criticism of Trump. It simply swapped out the face of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Vince McMahon with the CNN gif.

It was the exercise of free speech. It was also news. While posting such a video on Reddit is not surprising or noteworthy, it took on an entirely new character when Trump reposted it. He has waged an intense war against the news media and CNN in particular. That makes the original poster’s identity newsworthy.

CNN, however, stated that it has decided to withhold his name … for now. He is a private citizen, the network said, who apologized, took down the offending posts and said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media. 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.”

The last statement is particularly jarring. It sounds like CNN is putting a citizen on a type of media probationary status — threatening to reveal his name if it deems any posting as constituting “ugly behavior.” It puts a news organization in the position of monitoring free speech and deciding whether to ruin someone if he crosses some ill-defined line with CNN. It is the antithesis of what a news organization is supposed to be about.

If the man’s name is news, CNN can choose to publish it or not publish it. In reality, he is news only because his videotape was snatched from obscurity and paraded to the world by the president of the United States. It is the Internet equivalent of being hit by lightning. If the man posts an anti-media comment or gif, will CNN then declare it news and post his name? It is not clear how long this probationary period will run, let alone the standard for distinguishing between free speech and ugly speech.

Nor is there a clear rationale behind a media probationary status. Journalists will often withhold the names of sexual assault victims or minors. However, they don’t threaten to reveal those names if they fall to meet the news organizations’ expectations or standards in future conduct. Indeed, even when juries reject sexual assault claims, CNN continues to protect the names.

In this case, CNN is behaving like a media censor. The president arbitrarily selected this man and his gif. Now CNN appears willing to arbitrarily punish him.

It is the threat of future disclosure that is so concerning and dangerous. News is not supposed to be a weapon to be brandished to induce good conduct by organizations like CNN. Free speech and free press go hand in hand. Indeed, many reporters are protected more under the former right than the latter in legal controversies. Once a news organization becomes the manager of free speech, it becomes a menace to the free press.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

62 thoughts on “CNN’s Probationary Order To Reddit Poster Raises Serious Journalistic Concern

  1. Have you seen the latest: how “someone” faked a scorching NSA document and sent it to Rachel Maddow’s show, thinking she’d just disclose the contents without vetting the accuracy or source, after which they’d attack her for publishing fake news? She didn’t take the bait. Talk about a “stinking pile”. Donnie: they’re onto you. You won’t stop them from investigating ties to Russia or your conflicts of interest by sending in fake stories you or your minions generated. You try to create truth for your charge of “fake news”, but it won’t work.

    • Have you seen the latest: how “someone” faked a scorching NSA document and sent it to Rachel Maddow’s show,

      No. ha ha ha.

    • Have you seen the latest: how “someone” faked a scorching NSA document and sent it to Rachel Maddow’s show, thinking she’d just disclose the contents without vetting the accuracy or source, after which they’d attack her for publishing fake news?

      Did you know the latest strategy by the corrupt media to attempt to rehabilitate their despicable reputation is to send themselves fake documents and supposed leaks? They then claim journalistic integrity by doing their due diligence in expose these fabrications.

      She didn’t take the bait? Bwahahahaha! But you surely did. Pile of what? Yeah, they’re on to you as well as her.

      • Spot on Olly – Madcow, after lying about Russia! RUssia!! RUSSIA! is trying to demonstrate “jouranalistic ethics” One thing I will give her is that she is smart, trouble is those of us who are paying attention see right through that ruse. Her viewers most definitely not.

    • The idea that she got a forged document is pretty cool if you think about it.
      Can Rachel verify the source of her forged document?
      So what we have here is a fake forgery exposed as an excuse to raise suspicions about MSNBC’s veracity at checking sources BEFORE they present it.
      That’s like a fireman saying” Hey I just found this can of gas and matches, that he planted, next to your 100 year old barn, good thing I saved the barn, huh”?

  2. You claim: “It puts a news organization in the position of monitoring free speech and deciding whether to ruin someone if he crosses some ill-defined line with CNN. It is the antithesis of what a news organization is supposed to be about.”

    This is over-the-line hyperbole. CNN doesn’t have the authority nor could it prevent anyone from exercising his or her free speech. Where did you come up with the notion that outing the self-described A-hole who did this would result in his being “ruined”. Certainly, Trumpsters would praise him: hell, Chump himself reposted the video, so he loves it. CNN merely stated what the consequences would be for further conduct of this sort–that is, using its logo without permission for purposes of demeaning the network. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, sort of like: “use our logo to crap on us again and we’ll disclose your real name”. That is not censorship nor restriction on free speech. CNN didn’t even threaten to sue, which might put a different spin on the facts.

    I have an even bigger question: you assume it was OK for Mr. A-hole to use CNN’s logo to demean CNN, but WHY is that OK? CNN didn’t consent to the use of its logo. Why should CNN be required to tolerate this violation of its copyrighted logo for purposes of a demeaning and insulting attack on its journalism? In fact, CNN has shown considerable restraint in not proceeding with outing the A-hole in the first place but instead placing him on waning as to the consequences for further conduct of this sort.

    Bear in mind that if the person who occupies our White House wasn’t such an outlier in terms of his lack of qualifications, lack of skill, his pattern of deceit, and consistent lack of popular support, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    • Natacha – in the copyright laws it falls under parody, or fair use, for as short as the video was.

        • CNN – Contrived Newz Network, Cynical Newz Network, Clinton Newz Network whatever is DONE. Once the less intelligent Great Generation folks die off it’s done. The smarter folks, like my Dad at 83, have long since moved on from cable to the internet for news.

          And MSNB is next to fail with losers like Mad-Cow, Joe and Mika, and Joy Reid…………

    • “Bear in mind that if the person who occupies our White House wasn’t such an outlier in terms of his lack of qualifications, lack of skill, his pattern of deceit, and consistent lack of popular support, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
      Right, we would be served a stinking pile of Hillary coverup,corporate dog whistling while pilfering us everyday using standard Clinton subterfuge strategies while she crushes this country’s collective balls all along the media praising the aroma and brilliance of it all.
      I will admit I do admire your consistency.

    • Bear in mind that if the person who occupies our White House wasn’t such an outlier in terms of his lack of qualifications, lack of skill, his pattern of deceit, and consistent lack of popular support, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

      The current occupant built a business with 22,000 employees and $9.5 bn in annual revenue. The previous occupant was a p/t faculty member at the University of Chicago (where he published 0 scholarly articles in 12 years, was never granted tenure, and, per Richard Epstein, never served on any faculty committees). He spent 10 years and change in various legislative bodies, but is an established expert in no area of policy. He practiced law (p/t) for all of three years.

      Given the abuses of the IRS and the DoJ divisions under his predecessor (not to mention BO’s brazen lying over Benghazi, Berghdahl, and the IRS mess), I’m not concerned with Trump’s ‘deceit’.

      • Yeah, well, how about this: the majority of citizens in this country didn’t vote for the puxxygrabber in chief, the majority does NOT approve of his job, so far, and the majority of the rest of the world doesn’t respect him, either. In contrast. citizens in the US and everywhere else have a very high opinion of President Obama, and President Clinton, for that matter.

        Are so many people just plain wrong about YOUR President? How many businesses of Chump’s failed? How many bankruptcies has he filed for, and how much debt got discharged in BK? This is money he owed that he got out of paying, so add that to the equation about his alleged wealth. How many contractors and employees did he cheat? How many times has he been sued for breach of contract? What about bragging about grabbing women by the crotch to a very minor reporter, Billy Bush? Does a man worthy of respect do this?

        Barak Obama graduated from Harvard Law School, as did his wife. According to all of the institutions of higher learning in Slovenia, Chump’s third spouse did NOT graduate from any college in Slovenia, a fact he has lied about. Chump doesn’t even know the difference between an Executive Order and Legislation, concepts most grade schoolers know about. Then, there’s the tax returns. Why won’t he disclose them? Given his fragile ego, he would, if they helped him, so smart money says that they likely would show: 1. assets vs. debt: Chump is nowhere near as wealthy as he brags about. and may really be upside down; and 2. conflicts would be disclosed, perhaps involving Russians. What is there to respect about this bloated, absurd-looking, racist, misogynist liar, anyway?

        Then, there’s the Comey matter: he fires the head of the FBI, which is investigating him, because he refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Chump. He keeps trying to undermine the story about Russian involvement in his “victory”, even before the investigation is anywhere close to complete. Why? Why is “someone” trying to set up media critics of his with faked NSA documents?

        • Natacha – you are such a welcome addition to this blog – I have to wipe away tears from laughter at your inane posts.

          Who cares what other countries think about Trump? They did not have live here under the Obama administration where the inequality gap has widened steadily.

          And who cares that Melania did not go to college? Many of my friends in Germany did not go to college, but they are as educated and possibly more literate than many “grads” I have met over here. And unlike many US college/uni grads they have good jobs and great benefits.

          Face it: you are jealous because Melania is a beautiful woman.

    • we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

      Natcha, everyone’s got you smoked out as someone who insists on ‘discussing’, at high volume and in shrill tones, no matter what may be the occasion or circumstances.

    • Boy, CNN and MSM in general really give you die hard dumb as rocks Progressives a workout, don’t they?

      You either missed or ignored the fact that CNN itself stated that doxing the subject would likely bring harm to him/her.

    • CNN Admitted he would be in danger if his name was given. Their issue was with the other stuff he posted not the CNN meme

      • Yes. CNN stated harm may come to him if his ID was disclosed. CNN withheld “the right” to disclose his name if he posted stuff CNN did not like, such as the wrestling video of Trump kicking CNN’s butt.

        Progressives: please explain how the second item above does not equal CNN threatening the well being of an anonymous internet poster, for the mortal sin of embarrassing CNN? In the state of Georgia CNN committed a crime. The CNN poster was in NY, so the Georgia law does not apply, but still, CNN removed the tweet for the obvious bad behavior, if not civil and criminal crime risk, as our dear cradle to grave Democrat Dr. Turley has well proved.

        Only the most die hard mental case (or outright liar) Progressive can not connect the dots above.

        “Harm may come to X if CNN does ABC. CNN may perform act ABC to X if X embarrasses CNN in the future.”

        CNN itself posted the parameters of their simply math equation above. No body made this up.

        This is a 4th grade math equation, Progressives. Deal with it. The more you deny it the dumber and more pathetic you look, and the more the ground crumbles around your stupid position.

        CNN deleting the post is only consistent with everything I just typed. CNN has never stated any other reason to delete the post.

        The CNN CEO should have already been fired, but they just keep digging the hole deeper. Bless them for it. Bless them to hell where they belong.

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