CNN has come under fire from Americans on the right, who are accusing the network of blackmailing the Reddit user allegedly behind that GIF of Trump punching the CNN logo to the ground.
CNN has denied those claims and clarified the user’s age, which some claimed to be only 15. “CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety,” began the network’s statement on Wednesday. “Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false. 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. In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user’s identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”
HanA–holeSolo (the name has been edited for an expletive) took ownership of the GIF shortly after President Trump posted it to Twitter on Sunday morning. “Holy sh–!! I wake up and have my morning coffee and who retweets my sh–post but the MAGA EMPORER [sic] himself!!! I am honored!!” the user wrote after seeing Trump’s tweet.
On Tuesday, HanA–holeSolo issued an apology when his history of posting racist and anti-Semitic comments was unearthed. “First of all, I would like to apologize to the members of the Reddit community for getting this site and this sub embroiled in a controversy that should never have happened,” the user wrote on The_Donald sub-Reddit. “I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-[Semitic]. I am in no way this kind of person, I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life.”
He went on to explain his posts as a way of “trolling” and getting “a reaction from the subs on Reddit,” though the user “never meant any of the hateful things.” HanA–holeSolo also urged other Internet trolls to consider the impact of their words. “Free speech is a right we all have, but it shouldn’t be used in the manner that it was in the posts that were put on this site,” the user wrote. “Just because you are behind a keyboard doesn’t mean you can’t hurt someone with your words or cause a situation such as this one where a simple meme is misconstrued as calling for violence.”
As promised at the conclusion of the statement, the user deleted the HanA–holeSolo account. However, screenshots were posted online by BuzzFeed News reporter Brandon Wall.
Following the apology, CNN reached the man behind HanA–holeSolo and agreed to not publish his information. “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,” the network reasoned.
This added line is what sparked a #CNNBlackmail social media campaign: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., boosted #CNNBlackmail, but he spread a false claim about the user’s age. “So I guess they weren’t effective threatening the admin[istration] so they go after & bully a 15 y/o? Seems in line w[ith] their ‘standards,'” he wrote. This inaccuracy was further spread by actress Patricia Heaton (ABC’s The Middle), who tweeted, “Ignoring news while on vacay, but @KFILE / @CNN threatening to destroy 15-yr-old over gif?! Any shred of cred u may have had is gone 4ever.”
CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski soon weighed in, noting especially that the Reddit user was an adult, not a 15-year-old. As for accusations of blackmail, Kaczynski said, “CNN specifically choose not to reveal this guy’s identity and to say we threatened anyone is a total lie.” Later, he added, “This line is being misinterpreted. It was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity.”
Paul Joseph Watson of InfoWars, home of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange also chimed in.