Moments like this really demonstrate how much political discourse has dampened of late. The entire circumstance of President Trump sharing a meme involving a CNN logo superimposed over a wrestling match individual he supposedly tackled years ago has only been the latest in a series of episodes of political/media gamesmanship between both sides that has become, frankly, quite tiring. As a result, I’ve hardly seemed fit to be involved in discussing it most days, feeling it necessary to focus on other subjects. However, it was what occurred in the aftermath of such meme sharing that perhaps provided some interest.
While Trump’s sharing of a doctored meme of a wrestling match he was involved in years ago was pathetic for different reasons, he didn’t craft it himself. He shared it from a Reddit user that had posted the content. CNN, the news organization that was the target of the meme, felt it necessary to track down this user (helped by information the user had posted to his Reddit account allegedly). The journalist affiliated with CNN then looked to pursue a story on the subject, which apparently frightened the user into eventually apologizing and deleting his Reddit account. Though the journalist stepped back from releasing the user’s personal information, he did reserve the right to do so if the situation changed (For those interested, here is the article on the subject by that journalist – http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/04/politics/kfile-reddit-user-trump-tweet/index.html). That reservation launched a fury in some circles, with many claiming that CNN had not only committed blackmail, but may have in fact violated the free speech of the user in question. Is such a thing the case?
When dealing with the subject of free speech, it can be a subject that is fraught with confusion for some. From a legal perspective, the answer would most likely be no. The First Amendment only focuses on what the government can’t do…namely limiting the ability of people to speak freely. When it comes to the press, the only subject that is typically raised is the subject of libel or slander (did a news organization knowingly publish a character-attacking story that was false?), and there doesn’t appear to be any of that in this case. All that would then be left is the subject of whether CNN committed blackmail. Such an understanding would come from looking over the state laws that are relevant to the subject….which would depend on what perspective we are looking from. If we are looking at it from CNN’s perspective, it would be Georgia law, which puts a focus on “obtaining property”. If we look at it from the journalist’s perspective, then it would be New York law, which puts a focus on coercion. As no money was exchanged in the interaction involved (as far as we know), as well as nothing of value being gained (the user could just as easily open a new account and continue as he did before, and not reveal the info he did last time…as well as there being others freely disparaging CNN over this), nothing would likely come of pursuing a case in Georgia. The NY law involving coercion might possibly level more luck, but again considering what I mentioned above regarding what the user could do, it isn’t a particularly impactful one.
Therefore, nothing of legal consequence appears to be of issue here. CNN, being a private company, has the right to do as it is. While people are free to peacefully express themselves (no matter how offensive or unsavory it is), that doesn’t absolve them of consequences as a result of that expression in the public eye. That applies to anonymous users on the internet as much as known public officials, and is the consequence of a free society. Such a thing also applies to CNN. While the news organization might be within it’s right, that doesn’t mean that such behavior isn’t fraught with ethical or moral questions. A news organization effectively holding an internet user to some measure of veiled threat (which isn’t, again, really enforceable) if he posts something they don’t like takes them out of the business of simply reporting news, and looking more like avenging advocates or speech police…hardly an act that a media company should be standing for. In the end, how CNN ends up will depend on what people ultimately consider it’s actions to be. We will see what that verdict is.
In a follow-up to my recent Amazon post concerning government infringement on the private sector, looks like Trump might use his personal animosity for CNN against AT&T and Time Warner in their attempt to merge…yet another indication of what such “anti-trust” policies encourage. When it comes to innovation and growth, do we really want them at the mercy of the whims of politicians and those who lobby them (particularly those who have the means to do so more successfully, i.e. larger companies)? https://www.axios.com/report-trump-may-use-cnn-as-leverage-in-at-t-time-warner-merger-2454247910.html (Similar questionable outcomes dealing with property rights and free speech have occurred overseas, with the European Union turning the entire concept of competition and innovation on it’s head with it’s ruling that Google shouldn’t encourage support of it’s online support business to…you know…make money https://apnews.com/e97e52c7a5d743eba3a92879c35432f5, and Canada giving a middle finger to freedom of speech, whether in it’s borders or outside it, with it’s ruling that Google must block some search results worldwide http://www.reuters.com/article/us-canada-google-idUSKBN19J27N . Very unsettling.)