There are few relationships in our modern American political culture that are as antagonistic as the relationship between President Trump and the cable news network, CNN. As I’ve written here before, that is not a new phenomenon. A century before the Washington Post toppled President Nixon over the Watergate scandal, Abraham Lincoln and his Republican Congress was suspending Habeas Corpus, shutting down hundreds of dissenting northern newspapers and throwing thousands of northern journalists in jail for criticizing his administration’s handling of the War Between the States. Suffice it to say that the president and his administrations have always had a conflicted relationship with the press.
What is new is the obvious desperation of those at CNN to be the organization that takes down President Trump. To be fair, this doesn’t just describe CNN; all cable news channels are openly critical of Trump, including Fox News. This is also not a one-sided affair. Trump has been more than happy to return fire. He repeatedly claims that CNN peddles “fake news” and has even refused questions from CNN reporters at press briefings. The difference is that CNN has taken Trump Derangement Syndrome to a new level. A Washington Examiner report from May showed that 92% of all CNN news coverage focused on President Trump, with 94% of the coverage negative.
Cut to last week. On Twitter, Trump re-tweeted a gif of himself when he was a guest on WWE Raw in 2007. In it, he clotheslined WWE boss Vince McMahon, who had the CNN logo superimposed onto his head. The gif, originally posted by a Reddit user named HanAssholeSolo, would cause most people to just roll their eyes or chuckle and move on, but not CNN. In their judgement, they regarded the video as a threat to both their journalists and their First Amendment free speech protections.
So CNN tracked down the troll who originally posted the gif on Reddit and bullied him into a retraction and apology by threatening to release his personal information. Then they bragged about it in an article.
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.
The move has received backlash from across the political spectrum and all of it has been well deserved. CNN has once again overplayed their hand and the result is thousands of new memes and gifs, posted and re-posted tens of millions of times, all of which are critical of CNN.
It’s the same type of mistake Republicans made in the 90’s with Bill Clinton. They beat the dead horse of his legitimate and repeated legal issues to the point of receiving backlash. After seven years of constant Republican attacks culminating in two impeachment charges, Clinton’s approval rating went up 10 percentage points to 71%.
Trump’s approval rating may never see 50%, let alone 71%, but day in, day out attacks with little or no evidence, are already starting to take its toll on CNN’s credibility. Bullying teenage internet trolls certainly won’t help that.