It’s not often I like to tackle eDrama, particularly fresh from a bout of blackouts that have left me really muddled of late in my head.
But oh lordy, has the backlash on CNN been something or what?
The long and short of it is this; some guy – going by the username HanAssholeSolo, a missed opportunity of a name if there ever was one
HanAssholo – posted a dumb WWE meme on Reddit, of some skit in the 90’s when Donald Trump “beat the crap” (this is WWE so bunny ears absolutely intentional) out of Vince McMann. The change here? McMann’s head was overlaid with the CNN logo. It would have just been another Trump Meme to go with the thousands already out there, except this one animated .gif thing got retweeted by… President Donald Trump himself. Cue CNN pearl-clutching and fretting over “violence”.
That could – and should – have been the end of it. CNN needing smelling salts and overreacting and the meme would quickly, as most memes are wont to do, fade from the public eye as quickly as it arose. We’d all have forgotten about it by now.
Except, CNN decided to use one of its investigative teams to track down the Reddit user who posted the meme in question. The guy is an arse, by most accounts, but this is the Internet and 75% of it are arses. CNN contacted him and made him agree to take down his Reddit content and post a lengthy apology that seems a little too well-scripted to be your typical shitposter on Reddit. Good news is despite finding him, they aren’t going to publish his name. The bad news? They promise if he ever misbehaves again, they will. (Source: Daily Mail – and yes, this hurts, sorry.)
… yep. That’s what they put in writing. Coercion. Blackmail. Mafioso. Whatever you want to call it, that happened. They threatened to dox someone. And the Internet has, by this point, declared an all-out Meme War on CNN – hey, bet you can’t dox ALL of us! A lot of media outlets are also condemning CNN’s behaviour – and let’s face it, FOX News is likely having the time of its life no longer being the butt of news jokes.
That’s the basics. There are other layers, like the guy might have kids or the original creator of the meme might be a resident of Mexico, but it’s superfluous information and kind of dilutes the discussion and the core reason why this blew up so resoundingly in CNN’s face.
The First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This is hugely important for CNN because the First Amendment covers basic rights of free speech, both for the public and the press. You are allowed to say what you want, no matter how disturbing or distasteful or disgusting or disingenuous that may be. The amendment covers speech deemed to be hateful, perhaps even slightly harmful in some way, because that’s the kind of speech that needs to be protected; no-one would campaign to stop speech they agreed with, after all. That’d be stupid.
CNN went after a person who was exercising their First Amendment rights – which means, by my reckoning, CNN is attacking the very principles on which it, as a news network, is founded on. It is figuratively shooting itself in the foot here; free speech is not in their interests, and they will force you to comply and indeed threaten you with a doxxing if you ever say anything they disagree with on the Internet ever again. Talk about draconian; CNN acted as judge, jury and executioner here for the crime of reposting a stupid animated .gif on the Internet!
Of course, the reasoning why CNN did this is hardly a secret to anyone with a passing interest in modern journalism or the slow crumbling of the mainstream news media. CNN has spent pretty much the whole of the last… what… six, seven months mercilessly hitting Trump with a slew of negative opinion pieces and articles, most of which in recent weeks have been found to have no factual basis or even evidence to back them up. Even undercover journalists are exposing CNN’s own anchors and producers as admitting that it’s all for ratings, and that there’s no evidence, and they’re just making stuff up. They have nothing now; they have nothing to hit President Trump with. So what to do – go after the same target that is creaming you time and time again? Or go after the weaker links – his supporters, and make them agree to never ever agree with Meany PooPooHead Trump ever again or we will send a violent mob to your house and ruin your life! What else did he agree to – never voting Republican again or they dox him? I mean, it’s not much of a stretch is it?
That’s the really chilling part, of course. CNN managed to get this person to capitulate to their demands. To sacrifice his rights, his constitutional rights, for fear of exposure or harm. That, by any measure, is an overstepping of boundaries on the part of CNN that cannot and should not be allowed to stand. CNN was so proud of what it had done. It paraded it around as headline news. Look what we can do. Look what we could do TO YOU. I can’t think of anything more sinister. They didn’t even have the morals to dress it up. They straight-up and smugly pronounced to the world they were happy to coerce and blackmail anyone who didn’t toe their line, or wanted to mock them. Now they’ve got millions of memers to track down. Good luck, CNN. You might need it.
And yes, it’s true that the flipside of the First Amendment granting you free speech – even the stupid, moronic and hurtful kind – is that it does not protect you from Freedom of Consequence. HanAssholeSolo may have faced some consequences of his own (though Karma might have been a better judiciary oversight for that sort of person but hey…), but CNN is facing consequences for its own actions too. It seems they may have broken statues in Georgia and New York, where they have bases, and even part of Federal Law. What CNN did, by threatening this guy, was effectively commit a criminal act because one meany Reddit user hurt their fee-fee’s a bit with a stupid .gif.
Whatever you might feel about CNN – or indeed, H.A.S. – two wrongs do NOT make a right. If CNN thought it was right and proper to expose some of these meany memers to a bit of exposure, then just do that. Drop some consequences. Sure, you’d still have kicked off a meme war and might have ended up with a lawsuit but at least you’d have some way to argue on the merits of the First Amendment. You cannot commit criminal acts in this way; that’s the problem. Whatever H.A.S.’s marital status, age, probable kids or job – it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. The law doesn’t and wouldn’t give a toss.
He has been used as a weapon against the Trump Administration, and to Trump’s voters, that CNN has the power to publicly shame anyone it deems relevant or necessary.
THAT’S NOT OKAY! Ever. From Anyone. At All.
Now, let’s also mention that CNN is getting doxxed in retaliation – that’s also not okay. It’s not. Mock CNN, meme away, make irreverent animations and comical shitposts. Exercise your right to free speech in the best possible way, but careful when stooping to their level. In such a battle, free speech is the ultimate loser.
This is why much of the media has been cagey about either defending or outright condemning CNN.
The ramifications of this are much deeper than, say, #GamerGate. The press is enshrined and protected in the constitution, sure, but what is happening now is a terrifying game of cat and mouse where rights and protections are being interpreted a million different ways. Whose rights are more important, when both are enshrined in the First Amendment pretty much right next to each other? The media knows that this is a no-win situation for the most part; much better to stay out of the way, and try not to fan the flames too much, than say take any real stance. When people are this angry and this committed to taking down a news network – for right and wrong reasons – talking about ethics and moral conduct is almost impossible.
It’s one of the fundamental problems of an Internet Feud; anyone can take part in it, and whilst most people aren’t in it to be dicks – there is always that small proportion who will use it as some kind of revolutionary call where they can cast guilt aside, where any action is justifiable. Those of us who remember #GamerGate know how this goes; no-one comes out smelling of roses.
Still, on balance, I’m not with CNN on this one. As a big multinational company and news network, they have a responsibility to uphold the practices and foundations on which bloggers and smaller media sites depend on to exist. Even if they can convince a judge or law enforcement that what they did wasn’t technically illegal somehow, it doesn’t make them look any more like a bully. They cast aside ethical journalistic practices in a crusade of arguably pretty self-righteousness, believing they had the right to utilise their billions of dollars to silence someone who made a stupid image – rather than the person who utilised said image, because of course, CNN just can’t seem to land anything on ‘The Trump’.
Whatever happens though, I want to leave you with this thought knocking around in your head for a bit.
This image could have already disappeared into the ether like a million memes before it. It had no power. It was silly. Trump retweeted it, people laughed, but it still didn’t have much – if any – actual power. Now, their actions against H.A.S. have done something insane – they have immortalised this meme. It’s now arguably the most famous image currently on the Internet, and could be for years to come. They gave it power – they have elevated this ‘spicy meme’ to the kind of status reserved for The Falling Man (9/11), or the Vietnamese Napalm Girl (Phan Thi Kim Phuc). Just… just consider how crazy that sounds. An animated image of Donald Trump punching a CNN logo has become a rallying cry and one of the most profound images on the Internet.
And not an ounce of that would have happened if CNN hadn’t gifted it that kind of power. It has united memers (and Kekistani’s) across the globe. Despite being shadowbanned on Twitter, the hashtag #CNNBlackmail is still getting thousands – and sometimes tens of thousands – of retweets each hour. It has united warring factions, it has crossed the political spectrum, it has brought the majority of people together to protect and celebrate some random guys constitutional right under the First Amendment to make a stupid animated image and post it to the Internet.
THAT is where CNN messed up. One of those things you are told early on in Journalism, even as a hobby, is your duty is to report on or talk about the news, not to become the news itself. To find stories, not make them up. To offer a unique insight – not to rob people of their own. The rule is the same for all of us – we are bystanders offering perspective. Nothing more. Nothing less.
CNN may have trampled over the law and the constitution. But more importantly, it has torn a hole in the very fabric of Internet journalism. CNN discarded every sane and sensible principle in order to enact some kind of warped revenge on some guy who made an image the President retweeted to get a rise out of them. He played them, perfectly I might add. He gave CNN some rope. And they hung their journalistic credibility.
I don’t know how Trump will be in the next few years as President of the United States. What I do know is that based on how the last couple of weeks have seen all accusations against him fall apart, this guy is proving to be a masterful tactician. And perhaps that’s something to be concerned about, if you’re on the left (or even on the right); Donald Trump has demonstrated an uncanny, almost eerie, ability to make people – particularly the media – act against their own self-interest. Sure, CNN might have done this themselves, eventually, but you can’t deny Trump was at least the instigator here. He… ahem… accelerated things along. That proves he is no fool, and despite his love of Twitter, is no twit.
But the media might need to also realise… you can’t trample over the little people to get rid of one big person. No matter how horrible you think that person is.
And particularly when you rely on those little people for ratings that drive your advertising dollars.