CNN is still licking their wounds after a rather disastrous couple of weeks, where a shoddy Russia-Trump story led to three staffers resigning, a Project Veritas investigation exposed that the network's producers peddled the Russia story for ratings, and what came off as a wholly inappropriate veiled threat against an anonymous Reddit user who created a Trump WWE video, which the president tweeted before the Fourth of July Holiday. The video shows Trump beating up WWE’s Vince McMahon, whose face has been superimposed with the CNN logo. The media went apoplectic as an attack against the press; it wasn’t. This spurred the network's reporters to find the user and pretty much threaten to dox him if he continues to post things CNN doesn’t like. Yet, before we get to that, let’s revisit the Russia-Trump story that had to be retracted, along with The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald torching the media for their repeated trip ups in covering this story.
Three prominent CNN journalists resigned Monday night after the network was forced to retract and apologize for a story linking Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci to a Russian investment fund under congressional investigation. That article — like so much Russia reporting from the U.S. media — was based on a single anonymous source, and now, the network cannot vouch for the accuracy of its central claims.
Several factors compound CNN’s embarrassment here. To begin with, CNN’s story was first debunked by an article in Sputnik News, which explained that the investment fund documented several “factual inaccuracies” in the report (including that the fund is not even part of the Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, that is under investigation), and by Breitbart, which cited numerous other factual inaccuracies.
And this episode follows an embarrassing correction CNN was forced to issue earlier this month when several of its highest-profile on-air personalities asserted — based on anonymous sources — that James Comey, in his congressional testimony, was going to deny Trump’s claim that the FBI director assured him he was not the target of any investigation.
Greenwald then lays into other outlets for peddling shoddy stories, like the Russian hacking into the Vermont power grid, the piece about an anonymous group identifying sites that peddled disinformation stories planted by Russia, the server in Trump Tower that’s used to communicate with a Russian bank, and the claim that Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin are best friends—all of which fell apart. Yet, the media wonders why conservatives are using them for punching bags; it’s because they’re on a witch-hunt against this president. Not only that, they’re sucking at it. It only gives the Trump administration more ammunition and more for his supporters to relish when he delivers an uppercut to the liberal news media, who for months could not contain their outrage that he beat her majesty, Hillary Rodham Clinton. He noted that no one is perfect, and that we all make mistakes. Townhall (and by Townhall, I mean myself—mea culpa) posted about the Vermont grid story, albeit a short blurb that really didn’t go into a deep dive, but it was not correct and we added a correction. At the same time, we’re not in the same mold as other outlets concerning the Russian threat. To this day, there is zero evidence that Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russians to tilt the election.
What is most notable about these episodes is that they all go in the same direction: hyping and exaggerating the threat posed by the Kremlin. All media outlets will make mistakes; that is to be expected. But when all of the “mistakes” are devoted to the same rhetorical theme, and when they all end up advancing the same narrative goal, it seems clear that they are not the byproduct of mere garden-variety journalistic mistakes.
The importance of this journalistic malfeasance when it comes to Russia, a nuclear-armed power, cannot be overstated. This is the story that has dominated U.S. politics for more than a year. Ratcheting up tensions between these two historically hostile powers is incredibly inflammatory and dangerous. All kinds of claims, no matter how little evidence there is to support them, have flooded U.S. political discourse and have been treated as proven fact.
And that’s all independent of how journalistic recklessness fuels, and gives credence to, the Trump administration’s campaign to discredit journalism generally.
That story was posted on June 27. It took less than a week for CNN to get another face full of buckshot when they decided to search for the Reddit user that created the video of Trump ‘beating up’ CNN right before the Fourth of July holiday. The user is not someone to be defended aggressively. He’s admitted to posting racist and anti-Semitic material on the site. He’s apologized, but here’s where things got controversial [emphasis mine]:
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.
And of course, Greenwald had a response:
There is something self-evidently creepy, bullying, and heavy-handed about a large news organization publicly announcing that it will expose someone’s identity if he ever again publishes content on the internet that the network deems inappropriate or objectionable. Whether it was CNN’s intent or not, the article makes it appear as if CNN will be monitoring this citizen’s online writing, and will punish him with exposure if he writes something the network dislikes.
Moreover, if this person’s name is newsworthy — on the ground that racists or others who post inflammatory content should be publicly exposed and vilified — does it matter if he expressed what CNN executives regard as sufficient remorse? And if his name is not newsworthy, then why should CNN be threatening to reveal it in the event that he makes future utterances that the network dislikes?
If you’re someone who believes that media corporations should expose the identity even of random, anonymous internet users who express anti-Semitic or racist views, then you should be prepared to identify the full list of views that merit similar treatment. Should anyone who supports Trump have their identity exposed? Those who oppose marriage equality? Those with views deemed sexist? Those who advocate communism? Are you comfortable with having corporate media executives decide which views merit public exposure?
Whatever else is true, CNN is a massive media corporation that is owned by an even larger corporation. It has virtually unlimited resources. We should cheer when those resources are brought to bear to investigate those who exercise great political and economic power. But when they are used to threaten and punish a random, obscure citizen who has criticized the network — no matter how objectionable his views might be — it resembles corporate bullying and creepy censorship more than actual journalism.
The point with all of this is that it’s not just conservative media that are complaining about CNN and others tripping up. Greenwald is no fan of Donald Trump, conservatives, or our intelligence community - specifically the CIA - but he’s also known for keeping both sides honest. In February, he criticized the media for forgetting that the Obama administration was heavy handed with the press, especially when it came to whistleblowers. He also said what the “Deep State” is doing to the Trump White House by intentionally leaking highly sensitive information is a “prescription for the destruction of democracy."
The Intercept is a site where leakers to come forward with information that exposes government corruption or malfeasance. It’s the safe space for leakers, but it’s another thing to leak classified material in the hopes of hamstringing an administration from governing because you’re upset about an election result. Earlier this year, he told Amy Goodman of the left wing Democracy Now that the actions of the Deep State are akin to a soft coup as well:
Even if you’re somebody who believes that both the CIA and the deep state, on the one hand, and the Trump presidency, on the other, are extremely dangerous, as I do, there’s a huge difference between the two, which is that Trump was democratically elected and is subject to democratic controls, as these courts just demonstrated and as the media is showing, as citizens are proving. But on the other hand, the CIA was elected by nobody. They’re barely subject to democratic controls at all. And so, to urge that the CIA and the intelligence community empower itself to undermine the elected branches of government is insanity. That is a prescription for destroying democracy overnight in the name of saving it.
Vox Media, which isn’t a right wing rag either, also were appalled by CNN’s apparent threat are highly unethical:
A plain reading of CNN’s article, however, contradicts what the network and Kaczynski are saying. If CNN really intended to withhold HanA**holeSolo’s information regardless of what he did, then why didn’t the news organization say it was withholding his private information simply because he’s a private citizen? Why did it go on to add all the conditions about his behavior? And why did it say it could release the private information with an explicit condition tied to his behavior?
Personally, if I reported this story, it would have been pretty straightforward: “CNN is not publishing ‘HanA**holeSolo’s’ name because he is a private citizen.” Period. The rest of the information in that paragraph is unnecessary, because a media organization simply shouldn’t release a private citizen’s personal information. He shouldn’t have his private information threatened just because the president picked up one of his Reddit sh**posts, which he made with the expectation that he would be kept anonymous. (Though it is a truly bizarre turn of events that it’s even possible to write this sentence.)
In journalism, there is a clear line between public and private figures. Public figures are held to a higher standard — since they represent not just themselves but their offices, their industries, and so on. But private figures are given a veil of privacy, since it’s not really in the public interest to get some random person’s private information.
The month isn’t over yet; CNN could step on the rake once more. Stay tuned.