CNN Opens Itself Up to Criminal Charges for Threatening to Dox a Private Citizen

“Somehow, the people at CNN – who simply cannot manage to see the forest for the trees – have once again managed to have their own story blow up in their faces.”

Never mind that North Korea just launched a successful Intercontinental Ballistic Missile test and can probably now reach the American west coast with a nuke. Pay no attention to the fact that the ISIS caliphate became dead in the water ever since President Trump took office and unleashed General Mattis on the Islamic terrorist group while allowing Syria and Russia to put down the scourge of religious totalitarianism fomenting in the power vacuum of the civil war taking place. CNN wants you to instead pay attention to the Reddit user, HanA**holeSolo, who they claimed cyber-bullied them. Of course, now that #BlackmailCNN is trending number 1 on Twitter, how ‘bout them North Koreans?

If you’re just tuning into President Trump’s latest Twitter-storm, it revolves around a Reddit GIF depicting 45’s old WWE days. While Trump’s tweeting is consistently major news over at CNN, this story is merely the most recent evidence that their reporting is based more on what will garner ratings than it is about the journalistic standards and ethics held by the rest of us living down here on Planet Earth. In addition to the pettiness of the coverage in the first place, CNN’s response to it is potentially criminal and ultra-inviting of a civil suit. Here’s the backstory.

Some time ago, Reddit user, HanA**holeSolo, created a meme showing President Trump taking down Vince McMahon and pummeling him outside of the WWE ring with the CNN logo digitally imposed over McMahon’s head. The GIF shows the President sweeping the leg Karate Kid style and throwing in some ground and pound to seal the deal while CNN kicks its legs frantically from the ground. It’s actually quite hilarious and can be seen here.

President Trump came across the GIF and tweeted it out to the world with the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN. As he’s done so many times before, the Trumpster masterfully baited CNN into a skirmish in which they could only come out with their pants down and, as they’ve done so many times before, CNN took the bait — hook, line, and sinker — to make themselves look far worse than Trump could have ever hoped for in his wildest dreams.

As Trump reeled in his catch, CNN’s top personalities thrashed about desperately, trying to swim free. First, little Brian Stelter went on air to ask whether Trump’s tweet violated Twitter’s terms of service for “hateful conduct” and the hook dug a little bit deeper into CNN’s jaw. Next, Chris Cuomo took to Twitter to ask whether the real human being behind the HanA**holeSolo Reddit handle should be publicly outed as a bigot before deleting it soon after. I imagine he took it down after someone high up at CNN informed him of the Andrew Kaczynski KFile oppo-research effort that was taking place to do exactly what he was calling for. Trump’s line then began to wrap around the wide-mouth CNN’s dorsal fin and it was only just starting to get ugly for the dying fish.

We’re not even talking about the possible criminal charges against CNN or the lawsuit reminiscent to the one that took down Gawker yet and it’s already glaringly obvious that CNN does more to discredit itself than anyone else ever could. Trump just hands them the gun. They pull the trigger. Sticking with the fishing analogy, here’s where we yell, “Someone get the net!” We’ve got a fish out of water.

Despite all the pressing issues that a real news network should be allocating resources to cover, CNN’s enlisting of “investigative journalist,” Andrew Kaczynski, to play mafia enforcer is where things got dangerous. Kaczynski used the internet to gather a private citizen’s IP Address and biographical information before eventually contacting him personally to deliver a message: apologize or else.

Following the intimidation, HanA**holeSolo then drafted a written apology for his GIF, vowing to never do it again, and warning others not to blaspheme the media giant to boot. Then – in all its tone-deaf glory – CNN cried victory while attempting to look magnanimous by saying that they would not be releasing the personal identity of HanA**holeSolo because he gave such a genuine apology and because they didn’t want to out him for “his own safety.”

Even if CNN stopped right there, they would look like obvious bullies for unleashing the wrath of all their vast resources on hunting Han down. Putting it all into perspective, this is a multi-national media conglomerate synonymous with the phrase “mainstream media” threatening to put the private information of one private citizen out to every politically driven and potentially violent lunatic over a humorous GIF that depicted a fake man giving a fake beating to a CNN logo.

But we’re talking about CNN – of course they couldn’t stop there. What came next was CNN’s caveat to the “let bygones be bygones” olive branch they appeared to be offering. To punctuate the patting on the back they gave to themselves for getting such a groveling apology from a guy who didn’t want to become potentially targeted and instantly hated by millions for creating a GIF, they closed their official statement with this.

“CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change”.

All anyone with a half of a brain can ask is this: who in god’s name is CNN paying to make these decisions? Somehow, the people at CNN – who simply cannot manage to see the forest for the trees – have once again managed to have their own story blow up in their faces. Operating on the simple basis of fact that pro wrestling is fake, any rational person can surmise that this tweet by the President was a joke to show how he is figuratively taking down and pummeling CNN in the public arena by consistently baiting them in, flipping the conversation, and pulling their pants down to expose everything from extreme bias to outright lies and yellow journalism. He’s done this with regards to everything from the DNC’s behavior and collusion with CNN during the election to RussiaGate and beyond.

As evidenced by the #BlackmailCNN hashtag, many are questioning the legality of the media giant’s public threat to dox a private citizen should he continue to criticize them with homemade GIFs or rescind his apology. One of the most high-profile of them is Texas Republican Representative Ted Cruz. CNN’s home state of Georgia has a statute that should have them deeply troubled right about now. Theft By Extortion 16-8-16 (3) reads as follows:

A person commits the offense of theft by extortion when he unlawfully obtains property of or from another person by threatening to disseminate any information tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule or to impair his credit or business repute.

I’ve put this charge on someone following a sting operation once in my career as a police officer working for a Field Investigations Unit in Atlanta. The victim had a lot less to lose had the skeletons in their closet gotten out than Han does in this case. On top of that, there was no public admission of the act of extortion made by the offender needed for me to demonstrate probable cause in my case like there is here with CNN. In the opinion of a duly certified police officer who has charged an individual with this crime, I believe sufficient probable cause does exist for CNN to be charged.

I’m constantly at odds with myself on the success or failure of CNN. Based out of Atlanta where I work and live, CNN is a major economic provider to the area. The company brings in businesses, tourists, and conventions to a city that heavily relies on all three. If CNN, Delta, Turner Broadcasting, Cox, or any of our major players fail, there are real-life consequences to plenty of good and hardworking people reliant on a paycheck from these companies. It is for that sole reason that I want to see CNN do good.

Then again, if the benefits my state and city are getting are derived from something manipulative of the people and detrimental to my country, then I’ll be the first to indulge in dining on a freshly caught CNN served in lemon butter paired with a nice chardonnay – and my compliments to the chef, 45th President Donald J. Trump.

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T.B. Lefever
T.B. Lefever is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. T.B. is also a certified Field Training Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University. Follow T.B. on Twitter @tblefever.

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