On the 4th of July, a day dedicated to celebrating independence from tyranny, CNN used its corporate power to strong-arm an anonymous internet user into apologizing for posting a meme. The article was written by Andrew Kaczynski, a reporter who came to fame via his Buzzfeed platform through publicizing a poor joke by an average young professional woman during her flight to South Africa, resulting in her loss of employment and ruin. This incident with the Redditor is by no means Kaczynski’s first attempt at destroying an average person’s life, just as it isn’t the media’s first rodeo in overreach to try to bring down anyone on the right. It is, however, the first time we’ve seen average people fight back against the mainstream media in such a voracious manner.
The media has used its bullying tactics for decades against conservatives and against allies of the right. This is not a new game on their part. It’s a consistent pattern that they’ve developed in order to maintain their fading power structure. Even when there have been proven false charges in the past, the media has been able to deliver a scapegoat, and were soon forgiven and forgotten by the public. Very few still talk about the Killian documents, falsified reports that Dan Rather used to try to besmirch President Bush in the middle of the 2004 election. Even fewer remember how Katie Couric used her interview with Sarah Palin to personally destroy her in the 2008 campaign. Since the rise of President Trump, the mainstream media attacks have become so commonplace and so over-the-top dishonest that it appears they can say whatever they want with little to no repercussions.
But CNN miscalculated in how far they could push. Ever since President Trump declared the network “fake news”, masterfully branding the mainstream media with a term that they coined to try to discredit up and coming independent media outlets, CNN has gone into overdrive to try to bring him down. This is the first time they’ve met with a Republican who isn’t scared to fight back, isn’t trying to garner mainstream acceptance through the press, and isn’t remotely afraid of their platform. He’s traded direct verbal jabs with the network in press conferences, and garnered complaints from Jim Acosta who cries wolf that Trump’s words are “going to lead to a journalist being hurt.”
CNN has very little moral high ground to make charges that the president is encouraging violence after their employee Kathy Griffin gleefully upheld imagery of Trump’s severed head on camera, followed by their host Fareed Zakaria tweeting that the central park Trump assassination play was a “masterpiece.” They’ve been encouraging graphic violence in the extreme against the president, which makes the wall to wall outrage coverage about the president’s WWE-based joke video seem disingenuous at best.
The mainstream media’s Waterloo moment doesn’t stem from their overreach in zealous attacks, nor does their blatant hypocrisy pose a true threat to their platforms. Their real problem lies in the fact that there are large numbers of internet alternatives to their interviews and punditry analysis, ones that come across to viewers as less corporate, and by proxy, more authentic.
In 2016, the right learned that the networks were never going to give them a fair shake. Even conservative-leaning Fox News had hosts like Megyn Kelly who used their shows to attack then candidate Trump on a daily basis, which created the atmosphere of dread for the whole country when we all expected that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. But Trump proved savvy during this entire process. He reached out to the fringe media platforms, giving regular interviews to talk show hosts like Michael Savage and Alex Jones from InfoWars, and even giving a top campaign position to Steve Bannon from Breitbart. The mainstream media mocked these platforms for years, trying to manipulate the public away from the new media in order to maintain control over their industry.
The viewers in the center and on the right tuned out of these old-guard media networks as they became increasingly hostile with propaganda against people on the right, and, more importantly, what the public perceived as the working class American. It was the same problem that the Democratic Party faced in the election: they ignored the everyman in the assumption that they would retain their loyalty anyway.
When Trump became President, the alternative media outlets that championed him gained credibility, because they were proven right. They warned that there was a silent majority out there who was fed up with both the establishment politicians and media, and it turned out they had their finger much closer to the pulse of America than networks like CNN. A whole new crop of independent journalists followed in the footsteps of the new media pioneers, creating a diverse breadth of content for viewers to follow, carving out their niches in the media landscape. The mainstream media lashed out at these independent journalists with heavily edited hit pieces such as the 60 Minutes interview with Mike Cernovich and Megyn Kelly’s infamous Alex Jones debacle. Their tactics didn’t work in these instances, because the public perceives this as large corporations attacking independent, blue-collar individuals. All the hit pieces accomplished was to raise the profile of several independent journalists.
2016 saw media outlets like CNN ignore the everyman, hubris which led to a drastic change in the American political climate. In 2017, the media has shifted to attacking the everyman, and that is where they’ve accelerated their downfall as this continues to escalate.
CNN returned to its very same tactics that lost them the election, covering President Trump’s body slam video with headlines such as “Source Of Video Trump Tweeted Tied To Racist Comments.” The public rolls their eyes at messages like this. Attempting to paint President Trump as a racist because his media people pulled a video off of an anonymous internet source is tenuous at best. To any non-partisan viewer, it appears desperate. Even with that ridiculous coverage, this could have died down and been forgotten as so many other Trump vs. media incidents have been, were it not for the fatal mistake by CNN writer Andrew Kaczynski. This is the mainstream media’s Waterloo moment.
As mentioned, Kaczynski has a history of making average citizen targets and destroying lives for the sake of tabloid-style journalism. CNN in hiring him and other Buzzfeed writers to do this kind of work shows the depths they are willing to descend for their clickbait. Kaczynski worked with his team of Buzzfeed workers consisting of Nathan McDermott, Megan Apper and Chriss Massie to track down the Redditor who originally created the Trump body slam video. They sourced his identity through unknown means and through Kaczynski’s article, made it appear like they strong-armed this average individual into repenting his trollish ways “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, [that] showed his remorse.”
That line in and of itself would have been enough to give the independent journalists of the internet pause, but it was followed up by a very public threat: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.” This one overreach changed the entire media landscape, as it appears that CNN is threatening to dox a private individual because he posts parody material about their network.
Independent journalists on the internet immediately took this for the danger that it poses. Mike Cernovich went directly after Kaczynski, who foolishly engaged the Twitter star and author of Gorilla Mindset. Within two tweets, Kaczynski gave two different stories about how CNN obtained the information about the Redditor’s identity, creating a contradiction in his attempts to explain his network’s actions. CNN had no way to spin this where they could recover. An everyday person who created a funny video was attacked by a giant media conglomerate, and they couldn’t get their story straight about it. It caused everyone to see danger, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who tweeted New York statutory codes that show that Kaczynski may have violated laws regarding coercion. Even the more moderate-conservative journalists such as Ben Shapiro and David French pounced on CNN’s follies.
What is proving to be the complete destruction of CNN, however, is not that new wave internet journalists are banding together to speak out against the threatened doxing of a Redditor, it’s that so many average internet users have latched onto this story and seen the potential that CNN’s threats mean to any average citizen who crosses the mega-corporate media. The hashtag #CNNBlackmail escalated to the #1 trend in America on Independence Day, making it nearly impossible to for people not to see this story. This was propelled by a website known as 4chan, which has increasingly become involved in politics over the last year and a half. The site’s anonymous users take credit for Trump’s victory, often making statements such as “we memed him to the presidency!” The userbase there saw the threat to reveal HanA**holeSolo’s identity on Reddit as an affront to all internet users who wish to remain anonymous in their attempts at free speech.
This community is not small, nor isolated. Media stars such as Star Trek’s William Shatner even admit that sometimes he peruses 4chan’s boards. A person can run into anyone on 4chan and Reddit and never know who they’re talking to, which is part of the vast appeal of these sites. Though their claims about President Trump’s victory may be somewhat exaggerated, they did succeed during the campaign in distracting Hillary Clinton’s camp by getting them to focus on nonsense such as an internet meme known as Pepe the Frog. Clinton and her people released statements about how this cartoon frog, made in MS Paint, was code for racism, making the campaign look foolish and petty. This year, 4chan drove Shia LaBeouf’s anti-Trump art exhibit “He Will Not Divide Us” into the ground, making a mockery of it as if it were a game of hide and seek to find where the exhibit was hosted, and then littering it with pro-Trump paraphernalia. More recently, the users manipulated the media into a full news cycle of claiming that the “OK” hand sign was really a code for “white power.” 4chan’s influence on politics and the media is real, and it’s growing.
The site’s users issued a formal declaration of war on CNN, demanding apology and the total dismantling of the Time Warner-owned network. Their zealous interest in this story is a large part of what blew this up to nuclear proportions, and may be something that CNN cannot recover from in the wake of their already perceived intense bias and the Kathy Griffin scandal. The fact that so many average people feel as if they were targeted, and therefore involved, is where CNN miscalculated badly, and could spell the crumbling of the mainstream media’s remaining influence. The lesson to the media is a clear one: you may have ignored the everyman, but when you attack him, and attack free speech on the internet, you are messing with all of us. It’s ironic that this all occurred on Independence Day, a day in which the British Empire learned this very painful lesson from average Americans almost two hundred and fifty years ago.