On July 4, Cable News Network (CNN) journalist Andrew Kaczynski published an article titled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF.” CNN tracked down a man responsible for creating the GIF, a Graphics Interchange Format, supporting lossless animation and static image. The GIF shows President Donald Trump beating up a CNN logo beside a wrestling ring. President Donald Trump retweeted a similar video on Twitter. After writing the article, CNN was criticized on all sides of the political spectrum, as detractors accused CNN of being unethical and attempting to expose the wrong person. CNN’s critics are correct in both cases, which raises concerns over, not only how private citizens cannot trust journalists to provide accurate information, but also how our country’s news media may ruin or even endanger innocent lives.
In CNN’s article, the Reddit user in question wrote an apology regarding his behavior on Reddit and promised not to repeat his behavior, taking down his controversial posts (including the GIF) and deleting his account. CNN later revealed that they obtained the Reddit user’s identity without his consent. In the article, CNN said that although they have not revealed the man’s identity, due to complying with their orders, that if the Reddit user repeats his actions, they reserve the right to reveal the man’s identity. Yes, CNN threatened to expose a private citizen’s identity after receiving criticism, while they paid no attention to the fact that Trump had retweeted a similar wrestling video, which alternatively would have made for a better article. CNN blackmailed an innocent person, knowing that if they reveal his identity, it leaves him liable to harassment and violence from people offended by his GIF. This is a breach of journalistic ethics because CNN jeopardized a private citizen’s livelihood over a political disagreement. CNN is one of the world’s most powerful news corporations—if they are willing to force a man into surrendering under threats of revealing his personal information, how is it safe to disagree with CNN on anything?
CNN, particularly Kaczynski who lives in New York, also committed a criminal violation of New York Penal Law 135 (the state in which CNN is located), specifically section five and nine. It violates section five because CNN coerced the Reddit user into giving up his freedom of speech unless he wanted his information exposed to the hatred, contempt and ridicule. It violates section nine because had the Reddit user not given in, CNN could cause calculated harm to the Reddit user materially (including health, safety, career, relationships, and other things). Considering this, it is sad how CNN (specifically Kaczynski) went unscathed in the journalism industry. This is because the company wields a terrifying amount of political power that can ruin someone who dares to challenge their authority.
CNN having blackmailed a private citizen because of his criticisms showcases the poisonous attitude that they have towards anyone disagreeing with their political beliefs, and going as far as to try to ruin a Reddit user’s life. Unfortunately, the incident with CNN is not an anomaly. Expressing shameless partisan beliefs in their journalistic (and not labeled as opinions) articles is a trait common to the likes in the mainstream media like Fox News and MSNBC. We live in a country where the mainstream media, the ones who claim to be the hallmark of free speech, parade their biases, report inaccurate information for unsuspecting viewers and readers and harass those who disagree politically. Unless we demand uncompromising, apolitical and accurate journalism, this is only a broken nail to what they (or any major news media) may do in the future. Kaczynski’s reprehensible article only reminds us of the sorry state of journalism in the United States.