CNN responded to growing criticism Wednesday that it “blackmailed” the Reddit user who created the meme of President Donald Trump body-slamming and punching a person with the CNN logo superimposed over his face.
“CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety,” the CNN statement read. “Any assertion that the network blackmailed him or coerced him is false. The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologised and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter.”
“CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user,” the statement continued. “In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user’s identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”
On Tuesday, that Reddit user, HanAssholeSolo, posted a lengthy, since-deleted statement on the site apologizing for his postings, which included anti-Semitic graphics in addition to both racist and Islamophobic comments. He pledged to never engage in such posting in the future.
HanAssholeSolo posted the GIF, which was an edited version of Trump body-slamming WWE CEO Vince McMahon during a 2007 event, just days before Trump posted it to his Twitter feed on Sunday. That tweet is now Trump’s most widely retweeted in the history of his account.
CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski had contacted the user behind the HanAssholeSolo account on Tuesday. Kaczynski said the user later called CNN to further apologise for his posts after posting his lengthy apology online.
Kaczynski wrote in his story that CNN was not publishing HanAssholeSolo’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 behaviour on social media again.”
“In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same,” he continued. “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
It was that last sentence that led to an uproar on social media, with the hashtag #CNNBlackmail starting to trend on Twitter in the hours that followed.
“CNN essentially blackmailed a private citizen because he made fun of CNN,” tweeted Paul Joseph Watson, an editor of the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars. “Let that sink in.”
Critics suggested that the line constituted a threat against a private citizen who wished to remain anonymous that was contingent on his future postings online. Some critics also suggested that CNN was threatening a teenager, although Kaczynski later tweeted that HanAssholeSolo is a middle-aged man. Business Insider had viewed a post from HanAssholeSolo prior to the user deleting his account that claimed he was 37-years-old.
“This line is being misinterpreted,” Kaczynski tweeted in reference to the ‘reserves the right’ sentence. “It was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/the man about his identity.”