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On Sunday, CNN was mostly on the offensive. On Wednesday, the network was mostly on the defensive.
The “Worldwide Leader in News'” latest dustup began on Sunday morning, when President Donald Trump tweeted a 28-second-long video clip from his 2007 appearance at a World Wrestling Entertainment event. The CNN logo was superimposed on top of WWE owner Vince McMahon, the man Trump body-slams in the video, leading some to interpret the video as either simulating or encouraging an attack on CNN journalists.
In addition to replying on Twitter, CNN’s PR team sent a statement out to reporters: “It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters. Clearly, [White House spokeswoman] Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she said the President had never done so. Instead of preparing for his overseas trip, his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, dealing with North Korea and working on his health care bill, he is instead involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the news network was forced to respond to a backlash stemming from a line in a story about how the company’s KFILE investigations team determined the identity of the Reddit user who made the video that Trump tweeted, titled “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF.”
“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,” CNN political reporter Andrew Kaczynski wrote. “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.”
It was that last line that some, particularly those in right-leaning media spheres that are already predisposed to disliking CNN and Kaczynski, interpreted as the network blackmailing the creator of the video.
By Wednesday afternoon, CNN decided to respond to the outrage and set the record straight. “CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety,” the network said in a statement. “Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false. The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter. CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user. In fact, CNN included its decision to withhold the user’s identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal.”
While CNN is not the only major media company to have drawn the ire of the president and the right-leaning media ecosystem, few others have had to respond to as many tiffs and micro-stories. Last week, the network was forced to respond to three separate videos released by a conservative group, Project Veritas, that attempted to catch CNN employees saying disparaging things about the president and his administration. By the third video, a CNN spokesperson said there would be no more statements.
The network also recently suffered a self-inflicted wound when it was forced to pull down a story about a congressional investigation into a secret meeting between a Russian investment fund and a Trump-allied financier that had been misrepresented. Three prominent CNN journalists ended up resigning in the wake of the story, though the network’s quick response did little to appease critics.
President Trump, of course, has long waged war on the network and the “fake news” he says it produces, and as much as CNN’s PR team might enjoy a day without headlines, there will likely be many more statements in the future.
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