Why CNN was accused of Blackmail for HanAssholeSolo Story

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(Credit: CNN)

CNN has been accused of blackmail over its story about HanAssholeSolo, the Reddit user who posted the doctored video of Pres. Donald Trump bodyslamming CNN. The GIF, which Trump tweeted a version of earlier this week, added the CNN logo over a real video of Trump at a 2007 WrestleMania event.

CNN’s July 4 story by Andrew Kaczynski was headlined, “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF.” It reported that after CNN identified the real person behind the Reddit account HanAssholeSolo and tried to interview him, the person then posted an apology for the CNN GIF and other racist, anti-Semitic posts he published.

Despite publishing a story about tracking down the real person behind the account and that person’s reaction to being identified, CNN didn’t name the person, stating that when he returned CNN’s calls, he was “nervous about his identity being revealed and asked to not be named out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family.”

What raised ethical questions, however, is that CNN said it wouldn’t name the person now but might if he exhibits “ugly behavior on social media again.” The CNN story states:

“CNN is not publishing “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. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

On Twitter, readers questioned CNN’s decision, with the hashtag #CNNBlackmail trending. The BBC reported, “Propelled by right-wing US internet personalities and Julian Assange, the hashtag #CNNBlackmail has been tweeted over half a million times since the article documenting how CNN tracked down HanSolo was published.”

The reporter on CNN’s story, Kaczynski, denied that CNN “threatened anyone” and said that the person behind HanAssholeSolo said he didn’t feel threatened. Further, he said the reference to naming the person in the future was “being misinterpreted” and “was intended only to mean we made no agreement w/ the man about his identity.” Kaczynski also tweeted that despite claims the user was 15, the person is a “middle-aged man.”

iMediaEthics has written to CNN to ask if it promised the man anonymity, or decided to leave him anonymous separate of its interviews with him. We also asked what the standard would be for naming the man and for a response to the criticism of the anonymity decision. The Redditor, HanAssholeSolo, deleted his account so iMediaEthics can’t contact him for his side of the story.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics chairman Andrew Seaman blogged this morning that the agreement was “odd, not blackmail.” Seaman wrote that “little is gained by identifying the person” behind the account and instead “The key is getting information explaining how such a post made it from an online forum to the President of the United States.”

Seaman questioned how CNN would respond should the Reddit user act out on social media. “Where would these types of agreements with sources end? Would journalists agree not to identify a thief because he or she promised never to steal again?” he asked. That said, Seaman noted that it appeared CNN’s actions comported with the SPJ ethics code.

Seaman continued, “CNN’s agreement with its source should not be interpreted as blackmail, however. Anonymity agreements between journalists and sources should be detailed and often include qualifying statements. The specific qualifying statement in this agreement is not something that should be common practice, though. Of course, CNN needs to keep its promise now that it’s agreed upon by both parties.”

UPDATED: CNN issued a statement rejecting the blackmail allegations and said it “never made any deal, of any kind, with the user.”


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Why CNN was accused of Blackmail over HanAssholeSolo Story

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One Response

  1. Phil Donaghue says:

    You have offend the great CNN by making an evil meme mocking our greatness. We have therefore released our hounds, tracked you down, and you are now under the all knowing eye of CNN. You SHALL come before us prostrate yourself, grovel, and give us a full throated apology to such a degree that we will be pleased. You shall then destroy your own works, rip them from the wall from which you have posted them and if you do not we shall put a dox on thee and further smite you with our great power by revealing your identity to our rabid masses who will stone you with with tweets, posts, phone calls and other intrusive gestures which shall make your life hell on earth. So it has been spoken, so it shall be.

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