Trump went after the media and came out on top. As usual, it wasn’t Trump’s attacks, but the media’s response that made the president a winner.
by Jay Lorenz
Approximately two years have passed since the war between President Trump and the media began. During the campaign, Trump savagely attacked the media daily, a strategy which paid dividends due to the media’s unpopularity. Since the inauguration, the conflict has continued, but Trump has been more selective. Often he will go a week or more without criticizing the media, only to unleash a days-long tirade against the “fake news” on Twitter. These spats almost always turn into victories for the president due to the over the top response of the mainstream media, which leaves it looking hysterical and sometimes malicious.
In a series of tweets over the past two weeks, Trump launched some of his most (in)famous attacks on the mainstream media. The president called CNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, “Crazy Joe Scarborough,” “dumb as a rock Mika,” “low I.Q. Crazy Mika,” and “Psycho Joe.” Then he sent the tweet that began days of hysterical press coverage, stating that Scarborough and Brzezinski came to “Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” The media was immediately outraged at this comment, and came out in force to criticize Trump. Surely calling a TV pundit dumb and pointing out that she had a facelift was grounds for impeachment. It seemed destined to follow the typical pattern—Trump tweets, the media performs its hysterics, then things return to normal, the media looking foolish and Trump no worse for the wear.
Then came the haymaker.
In fact, it was actually a clothesline—the one Trump hit Vince McMahon with at WrestleMania in 2007. This time, however, the CNN logo was superimposed onto the head of Trump’s victim. In the video, the president then doles out multiple punches and elbows.
To this meme, the press responded by increasing their level of moral panic and outrage many times over, doubling down on hysteria. CNN issued the following snobbish, melodramatic statement:
“It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters. Clearly, 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 involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”
The extreme rhetoric continued on CNN for days. Contributor Ana Navarro said, “It is an incitement of violence. He is going to get somebody killed in the media.” Reporter Jim Acosta said he was worried: “this kind of behavior is going to lead to a journalist being hurt.” CNN regular Carl Bernstein, after questioning Trump’s mental state, called it “very disturbing” and “an incitement.” “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter accused the president of behaving like a dictator then had a guest on his show, David Zurawik from the Baltimore Sun, who compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, saying, “you take somebody and slam them physically to the ground, you put a logo on identifying them. That’s what fascists did in the 30’s to people.” The entire network acted as if a logo edited into a fake fight was an actual assault on a reporter.
Then came the biggest overreaction of all. Andrew Kaczynski, from the CNN show “KFile,” attempted to track down the creator of the meme. He traced it to an anonymous Reddit user called “HanAssholeSolo.” Last Tuesday, CNN published an article bragging about how it had tracked this man down and threatened to expose his identity if he did not take down his online posts, stop posting anonymously on the internet, and apologize. Kaczynski wrote in the article:
“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.”
In this quote, Kaczynski explicitly states that the reason he did not dox the man is that he capitulated to CNN’s demands. That is, CNN used its position as a powerful media empire to extort HanAssholeSolo.
This move backfired on CNN, as #CNNBlackmail trended number one on twitter Tuesday night, featuring a massive tide of criticism toward the company and Kaczynski for threatening the livelihood of an anonymous man on the internet. The action was so egregious that even many in the media thought he had gone too far. However, most of his colleagues at CNN stood by Kaczynski.
What made CNN go this far? The most obvious motivation is revenge for the public embarrassment it received at the hands of the president and the meme. The more likely reason, however, is the posting history of HanAssholeSolo. Kaczynski and CNN made a point of highlighting the “racist” and “anti-Semitic” nature of the posts, when justifying their actions. The post Kaczynski seemed most upset with was an image which showed how many Jews work at CNN. On Twitter, the Jewish reporter stated that one of the main reasons he felt it was OK to harass and threaten Han was that “this was someone who shared an image of CNN reporters’ face[s] with Stars of David next [to] them.” This was a sentiment shared by many at CNN, who were furious at the network being outed as a nepotistic Jewish entity. Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, tweeted, “should CNN reveal name of Reddit user who made trump wrestling video?” “Had a lot of bigoted and hateful material on page and website.”
This has become a public relations disaster for CNN. Most people, especially anonymous internet users, are disturbed by the action of targeting a private citizen. In addition, it isn’t even clear that Han was the person who created the meme, a fact that CNN admitted last Wednesday. This means that CNN potentially attacked the man for no reason at all.
So far, the only time Trump has addressed the issue was during his trip to Poland. When asked about CNN’s actions, Trump said, “I will say that CNN has really taken it too seriously, and I think they’ve hurt themselves very badly. Very, very badly.” However, other prominent figures have come out much more harshly against CNN. Ted Cruz and Julian Assange both suggested that CNN committed a criminal act. As of the writing of this article, Trump has not pressed the issue. Trump’s strategy may be to punch hard, then get out of the way while the media flails, or he may be saving that line of attack for another day. No matter what Trump does, the botched response by the media makes this latest battle another resounding victory for the president.