The media have grown increasingly frustrated with the public’s disapproval of their work. But rather than change their ways, they have decided to go to war with the Average Joes who dare cross them.
If this sounds absurd to you, take a look at what unfolded Wednesday night. Most of us spent that time enjoying Fourth of July festivities, but CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski published an article entitled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF.”
By that point, others had already reported that Trump’s infamous tweet — the one with a video of Trump at WrestleMania, but with his opponent’s head covered with a CNN logo — was based on a meme made by someone named “HanA**holeSolo” (no asterisks in the original). HanA**holeSolo had an Internet comment history consistent with his pseudonym, having spent a number of his days making racist and anti-Semitic cracks and pictures, which shouldn’t constitute news to anyone who’s spent more than hour browsing the Web in his entire life.
It initially struck me as strange that CNN, “The Most Trusted Name in News,” would devote resources to unmasking some troll, when millions more of them exist, dwelling in caves throughout cyberspace. It’s the equivalent of studying the family tree of one of the mice that live in my walls — who cares?
But there’s a reason this particular troll caught CNN’s attention, of course. To CNN, it’s annoying that Trump spends an inordinate amount of time attacking the organization — and the network knows it’s more than a little responsible for Trump’s electoral victories, too, making every insult dig deeper.
So how dare a member of the common folk receive such acclaim (from the president of the United States, no less!) for mocking the upstanding gatekeepers of truth, the self-acclaimed guardians of democracy? No, no, this won’t stand — and not incidentally, any new development in the Trump-CNN feud will fuel ratings as well.
Thus, Kaczynski decided to embark on a mission to identify this filthy prole. Like an overzealous college resident adviser who smells marijuana emanating from the woods, he decided that someone needed to pay for these broken rules — that justice must be served. Except instead of a meeting with the school disciplinary board, the man behind these tasteless Internet posts would be threatened with a life of perpetual unemployment and total shame.
“Using identifying information that ‘HanA**holeSolo’ posted on Reddit,” Kaczynski wrote, he “was able to determine key biographical details, to find the man’s name using a Facebook search and ultimately corroborate details he had made available on Reddit.”
After Kaczynski contacted the man — but before the two spoke — HanA**holeSolo realized the potential danger he faced if his identity became known and posted a long-winded apology on Reddit atoning for his sins against the sacrosanct “journalist community.”
In response, Kaczynski wrote that he would not publish HanA**holeSolo’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 behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same.”
But he better not act up again, Kaczynski added: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.” Presumably, HanA**holeSolo was also assigned 15 Hail Turners before he could comfortably know his soul was saved.
Such a disturbing caveat from a major news outlet shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Such a disturbing caveat from a major news outlet shouldn’t be taken lightly. No longer, by his own admission, is this reporter concerned with educating the public. Instead, Kaczynski wanted revenge and to remind the rest of the masses that the power dynamic in the mainstream media’s relationship with the public is, and shall remain, thoroughly one-sided.
A number of writers, from both the left and the right, condemned this disturbing new precedent. In his defense, Kaczynski claimed everyone was misinterpreting the network’s caveat and cited the creator’s anti-Semitic memes directed at his coworkers — as if one can’t believe simultaneously that bigotry is bad, and that a major news outlet shouldn’t silence an Internet troll by threatening to ruin his life and put him at risk of physical harm.
“Knowledge is not for knowing:” the French philosopher Michel Foucault once wrote, “knowledge is for cutting.” One does not have to take the consistently cynical and nihilist position of Foucault to see that a journalist’s devotion to “knowing” isn’t always to serve a public good. Instead, certain facts, like the identity of a random citizen, can be collected to ensure the boat isn’t rocked too hard.