I don’t know what CNN was expecting to achieve when it decided to go after a Reddit user for creating an animated gif, but it has seriously underestimated both its audience and accuser.

Last night, CNN threatened to out the Reddit user behind the now infamous wrestling-video-turn-animated-gif of President Donald Trump pummelling wrestler Vince McMahon – wearing CNN’s logo for a face – to the ground.

CNN’s reputation has taken a beating of late, courtesy of a President who seems to have his sights set on the network’s ruin, using its lackluster reporting as an excuse to threaten it and other journalists and news organisations, similarly vowing to wind-back the First Amendment which enshrines in law, the freedom of the press.

Certainly, the leaked footage of CNN producer John Bonifield admitting its coverage of Russian election tampering has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with ratings, didn’t help its cause.

In any case, last night CNN published a story claiming it had tracked down and identified the man behind the Reddit account, ‘HanAssSolo’, who popularised the ‘Trump wrestling video’ by turning it into an animated gif, but said it was voluntarily withholding his personal information, on the condition he apologise publicly and retract the post.

“CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change,” it wrote in a gloating process-piece about how it tracked down and identified the Reddit user. It also went back through ‘HanAssholeSolo’s’ history and used as additional leverage, several provocative and distasteful Reddit posts containing racist and potentially anti-semitic content.

Within hours ‘HanAssholeSolo’ was issuing a public apology:

“First of all, I would like to apologize to the members of the reddit community for getting this site and this sub embroiled in a controversy that should never have happened,” the apology read. “I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-semitic. I am in no way this kind of person, I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life.”

He added, “The meme was created purely as satire, it was not meant to be a call to violence against CNN or any other news affiliation.”

The post in which he apologised and encouraged other internet users to consider the impact of their actions has since been deleted from Reddit.

Needless to say, internet was displeased and responded accordingly:


I’m not sure if CNN was expecting the President to congratulate it for its brave and noble act of publicly blackmailing a Reddit user, but it has done a tremendous job of making Trump’s point for him.

As if the press doesn’t have a difficult enough time as it is maintaining credibility, CNN swooped in and gave its audience – and every other active news consumer out there – yet another reason not to trust us. How it can claim allegiance to the First Amendment by publicly shutting down the free speech of an internet user whose activities inconvenienced its brand, is beyond me.

This woeful miscalculation occurs at a time when Donald Trump is seeking permission to access voting records of every person in the country, and who has on several occasions threatened violence against the press, even going so far as to declare ‘war on the media’, and has been known to encourage his supporters to turn on the journalists assigned to cover his rallies.

If this is what CNN means by “we will keep doing our jobs, the President should start doing his,” it is not off to a good start.

I might add, nobody had a problem with either the video or the subsequent gifs that resulted from Trump’s little PR stunt. But CNN dug up some inflammatory Reddit posts by the same user and used it as justification for its online witch-hunt. Because it knew the post on its own wouldn’t be grounds enough for a public shame-fest.

I take offence when anti-semitism is used as a weapon to shut-down speech. (And before you come at me with accusations of white-privilege, I was raised Jewish. Not that my identity should have any impact on the credibility of my argument). The words ‘anti-semitism’ should be reserved for honest-to-goodness anti-semites, instead of a political tool in the arsenal of those with ulterior motives.

I have no idea whether ‘HanAssholeSolo’ is a racist or not. I couldn’t be less interested. His internet history has been used as an excuse for CNN to go after him condemn him while race-baiting the entire internet.

We saw this occur in the Pewdiepie  incident last year, (in which YouTube dumped its most popular user after he became embroiled in an internet and media witch-hunt for a harmless prank designed to highlight what atrocious things people on the internet are prepared to do for five dollars), and we saw it again in this blackmail attempt on the part of CNN.

How ‘HanAssSolo’ decided to use the time that preceded or followed his little CNN wrestling gif has absolutely nothing to do with the post at hand. And as one Reddit user, ‘Practicing_Onanist’ rightly points out: “would you be ok if Breitbart found one of your anti-Trump posts and threatened to release your personal information? Then you shouldn’t be ok with CNN doing it either”.

Ironically, CNN’s little blackmail attempt has actually helped to bolster anti-Jewish sentiment. Its actions have spawned a meme (which we won’t be reproducing here) that alleges all of its employees are Jewish. Unsurprisingly, it has resulted in all manner of ugly allegations and imputations. Now its actions are being interpreted by some as revenge by the ‘Zionist lobby’ against those who disagree with it.

This is a new low for journalism. Just when you thought CNN couldn’t set the bar any lower, it outdoes itself. It blackmailed a Reddit user to bolster its own failing business model, simultaneously inflaming racial tensions, and destroying trust in journalism, all in the same day.

That is quite an achievement.

Today CNN highlighted its own desperate irrelevance by enacting revenge against ‘HanAssholeSolo’ for having the audacity to post an animated gif online.

Trump has been waiting for CNN to trip over itself and they handed it to him. It’s Christmas Morning for the Republican Party which now has all the excuses it needs to clamp down on press freedoms.

Worse, this whole thing will once again be used as a distraction from the real news that is going unreported while CNN is forced to respond to the backlash.

These amateur decisions make make me crazy.

I don’t know if you can tell, but there has never been a more important time for an empowered and well-endowed Fourth Estate.

This may be the death knell of establishment media, but our jobs have been made more difficult by this stupid media stunt.

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly is the editor-in-chief of Renegade Inc. An award-winning freelance journalist and speaker, she is the founder of Hello Humans, an experiment in subscription journalism starting at just $1 a month. https://www.patreon.com/hello_humans

Specialising in economics, technology and policy, Connelly is working on her first book and podcast series, How the World Really Works*. (*Title may be due to change). You can pre-order a copy here. #shamelessselfpromotion.

With more than a decade of experience under her belt, Claire has written for leading publications including The Australian Financial Review, The Saturday Paper, ABC, SBS, Crikey, New Matilda, VICE & others. She is the co-host of The Week In Start-Ups Australia, and features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio shows including Radio National's Download This Show, ABC's The Drum, Ten's The Project, and more.

How do you spend your days?

I am the editor-in-chief of Renegade and founder of Hello Humans, a subscription journalism experiment. I also freelance & consult for a number of publications of the editorial and commercial variety.I work from home. I am a bit of a work-hermit. I can mostly be found on the internet and at the dog park.

Why is this important to you?

Now more than ever, it is really important to make sense of the world around us. But in an age of information saturation it is becoming harder to distinguish the truth from bullshit. Part of the reason I am doing this is to help people differentiate between the truth and narratives being sold by people and organisations with vested interests.

I want to help people identify rhetorical red flags and immunise themselves against a sea of bullshit.

What drove you to focus on journalism?

I guess you could say my parents played a fairly big part in my becoming a journalist, much to their despair. Watching the news, reading the paper and listening to the radio was a compulsory activity in my household. My parents read me the paper before I could read.

Being engaged in the world around us was the way we repaid our debt to society.

They channelled the last of their politically active twenties and thirties into fostering our curiosity and distrust of authority. It wasn’t until I reached university that I fell in love with economics, politics and international relations.

Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?

The day Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, (the 4th of November 1995). I was 10. It was a weekend and I was in my winter school uniform complete with pinafor and scratchy tights. I played clarinet in the school orchestra and we were due to play at the old folks home. And I was pissed. And I said so.

The phone rang, and with tears rolling down her face, my mum turned to me and said the concert had been cancelled. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister had been killed.

I threw my stuff down and turned to get changed. But before I could my mum grabbed me firmly. I will never forget the look of disappointment on her face. She made some comment about how Rabin did not die for my convenience.
“You live in this house, you have clothes on your back and warm blankets and three square meals a day. You may not do anything with your education that we pay for, but you will be informed.”
She sat me down in front of the ABC and made me watch eight hours of assassination coverage. Little had I known the world was falling apart.

That day pretty much sealed my fate.

You can read more it here if you are interested.

What drives you professionally?

Justice. Egomania. Curiosity. And the fact there is no other profession more suited to my personality.

In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?

Neoliberalism. Economic and social instability and insecurity. Banking fraud. Climate change. (Ok that’s four things. I never was very good at lists).

If you hadn’t become a journalist what would you have done?

My mum wishes I had studied law.

What led us to this moment in history?

We are living proof of a 30 year operation to permanently reduce the responsibility ofgovernment over the wellbeing of its constituents. You can read more about that here. (Link to neoliberalism piece).

What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?

Austerity is a means of redistributing the profits in of productivity in which we all used to share to the world’s uber-wealthy.

The global financial crisis was one small step for man, one giant leap for the banking industry. It cemented financial crises as a permanent phenomenon and the formalisation of corporate revolution.

It signalled to the world that government exists only to support the private sector, triggering a wave of disillusionment which allowed neoliberalism to complete its task at hand: the complete and utter destruction of democracy, replacing it with a market society in which economics permeates every facet of modern life, from education to healthcare to law & order.

Even the military operates as a for-profit model, conveniently privatising any activity that sits outside the criminal justice system.

Some call the bail-outs of 2008 a failure of neo-liberalism. To the contrary, the private sector attained almost exactly what it set out to achieve: a system with no obligation to true economic recovery, that supports only profits and the corporations which generate them.

We keep voting for wealthy populist leaders thinking the knock-on-effects will put dollars in our pocket when the very opposite is true.

So long as voters continue to accept the mythic propaganda sown over the last 30 years that tax breaks & subsidies create jobs, deficits are bad, surpluses are good and that any instability is somehow the fault of the poor, our economic insecurity will only continue to increase.

Can you list some ‘baby steps’ out of the current economic mess?

A return to full employment.

A royal commission into the continuation of subprime mortgage fraud. (It didn’t go away after the GFC. In fact it was pretty much legalised).

Slash the cost of university degrees & create new pathways for the unemployed and underemployed to attain new skills and education.

Deficit spending to create infrastructure that will create the jobs of the future.

Support local agriculture.

Reduce private debt.

If you were a President / Prime Minister what would your first three pieces of policy be?

A job guarantee.
Re-introduce a price on carbon.
Legalise gay marriage.

Tell us something you have been wrong about?

I didn’t think that in 2017 that gay marriage and abortion would still be illegal in Australia.
Claire Connelly

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