Preying on our festering grievances with the press, President Trump stands atop the bully pulpit and marshals us against them, the commander in chief of his goblin army. As he wages war against the mainstream media, his rebuke of CNN, in particular, is brutal and relentless.
CNN exemplifies a press that has failed us, failed to hold the powerful accountable, and failed to inform and enlighten us, at every turn. President Trump, in many ways, is the culmination and the fault of a failed press, and it would be tempting to view his attacks on CNN as poetic justice. But his motives have nothing to do with justice.
The fundamental problem with the mainstream media is that they have an establishment bias because they are part of the establishment. They give a platform to those who look and act and think like them. They would have gladly done the same for Donald Trump, except the president is clomping around Washington DC like the Beverly Hillbilly of statecraft, and CNN is aghast. And so, the president and the press have accidentally found themselves in the adversarial relationship they’re supposed to have. This is a crucial check on the power of a president defined so much by his unaccountability. So, President Trump’s war on the media isn’t to avenge you and your suffering because of fake news. No, he means to break the backbone of democracy so he can rule you.
Glenn Greenwald wrote an article in The Intercept criticizing CNN for tracking down and threatening to reveal the identity of the anonymous individual who posted a video online showing Donald Trump pretending to savagely beat a man with a CNN logo for a face. Mr. Greenwald states that “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.” He also claims that it is “untoward” that CNN is the outlet that uncovered the poster’s identity because CNN was the subject of the video and that “creates the appearance of vengeance.”
While there is no scarcity of grossly problematic behavior for which to criticize CNN, given the full context of this story, it is absurd for Mr. Greenwald to have us squint at CNN under his microscope while robbers and looters are running out the door with the dignity of our house.
The video at the center of this story was apparently modified, had audio added to it, and then tweeted, one Sunday morning, from the personal account of Donald Trump as well as from the official @POTUS account. What is truly “creepy, bullying, and heavy-handed” is that the president of the United States, who commands the largest microphone of anyone in the world, would attack the press with such violent imagery. Furthermore, it is a stunning display of fascism that his administration’s response to this behaviour is that, “the president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence,” because if you oppose this, your government cares so little about what you think that the only thing they will do to address your concerns is tell you that what you saw happen, didn’t happen.
It didn’t take long for the media to track down the source of the video: an anonymous Reddit user. Then, in another lie so implausible it’s hard not to see it as an utter disregard for what we think, The White House denied Reddit was the source of the president’s tweet, even though no prior example of this video has been found on the Internet and a frame by frame comparison of the two videos would show that it is statistically impossible that they don’t have a common origin. It seems the reason the White House wouldn’t admit to the pedigree of the president’s tweet is because Donald Trump had thoughtlessly chosen to use the platform that we all entrust to our president to speak for us, to elevate a person who it turns out has a history of posting racist and violent things on the Internet.
These posts include photographs of every Jewish employee of CNN whom HanAssholeSolo, as he called himself online, had helpfully marked with the Star of David. This is not the first time the star has been used to mark Jews, and Mr. HanAssholeSolo was likely alluding to the most infamous instance of this with his collage, when the Nazis forced Jews to wear the star during the Holocaust. The Nazis would go on to kill 6 million Jews. The population of Los Angeles today is fewer than 4 million people. They killed 1.5 million Jewish children. That is more than 3 times the population of Miami.
Mr. HanAssholeSolo was ecstatic when he found out that his work had been shared by the “God Emperor himself!!!” However, he had a change of heart after he learned that CNN had discovered his identity. He issued an apology where he admitted to posting “racist, bigoted and anti-semitic” things, then bizarrely insisted that he was “in no way” the type of person who would post racist, bigoted and anti-semitic things, and that he had loved and accepted people from “all walks of life,” his whole life. He also insinuated that he had been persecuted, saying “I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life,” even though they had only reported on things he, himself had posted. He capped off his apology by shirking personal responsibility, blaming his addiction to trolling for what he had done. Then he deleted his account.
The human psyche is startlingly fragile and we can be separated from our morality more easily than we’d like to think. We are all vulnerable to giving in to hate when we are frustrated, afraid or suffering, becoming so twisted by our circumstances that we begin to see our hatred as just. On the other hand, it is a common refrain of Internet trolls, when confronted in real life, to admit that they knew what they were doing was wrong and they were doing it just to hurt people, for the lulz, as it were.
A certain amount of privilege is required to produce the type of content that Mr. HanAssholeSolo did. It takes resources to create memes and videos–you need a computer, it’s not something you can do on your phone, you need software, Photoshop isn’t cheap, and you need the luxury of an education or free time to acquire the skill to track a logo to a man’s face in a video. To gather together the fruits of this privilege and then use it to attack people, while knowing that doing so is wrong, perhaps Mr. HanAssholeSolo is right, and trolls do need professional help. In that case, hopefully we’ll have universal health care one day so we can help people like him, because I don’t think the health care plan his god emperor is pushing for would cover being an asshole.
Dubious as it was, CNN accepted Mr. HanAssholeSolo’s apology and decided not to publish his name because he is a private citizen, had apologized, taken down his offending posts, and promised not to “repeat his ugly behavior on social media again.” However, they also reserved the right “to publish his identity should any of that change.” Mr. Greenwald characterized CNN as the aggressor and the bully in this situation because CNN is a big company owned by an even bigger company and Mr. HanAssholeSolo is a lone, anonymous Internet troll. But, he’s not really. His voice was boosted from the bully pulpit. A large number of people rallied to his cause. The day Mr. Greenwald published his article, #CNNBlackmail was trending at the top of Twitter. And later that day, it was revealed that another anonymous Internet troll had published the home addresses of several CNN anchors and reporters who “received threats of rape and other violence.”
Mr. Greenwald’s framing of the situation seems surgically one-sided. His article doesn’t even mention the president’s role in these events. While we can appreciate that his piece has a point of view, his arguments are most compelling when viewed through the tunnel he has constructed for just that purpose. From a broader perspective though, it’s obvious that the media was going to attempt to learn the identity of the person the president had chosen to ejaculate onto the world stage. That’s the problem with the media: their reporting lacks humanity because they’re mindless establishment robots that can be relied upon to react in a predictable way. Everyone else in the establishment realizes this and uses it to their advantage. Donald Trump, on the other hand, won’t stop punching the robots and then complains that they keep stabbing him in the face. When CNN did show a rare spark of humanity, or at least self-awareness, by not outing a regular person that suddenly found himself under a very bright spotlight, they were chastised because they clumsily reserved the right to change their mind should the situation change. And while Mr. Greenwald was herding us to shore up the intellectual flank of the assault on CNN, the demagogue who started all of this looked down from his pulpit and smirked at how he had moved the enemy of his enemy against his enemy.
If we are given to hate, it will be used to herd us like cattle, and we will be separated and slaughtered like cattle. If we are to survive, it is vital that the press be able to hold the president accountable. And if we hope to ever have a fair and honest media, we must first be a fair and honest people.