CNN denied Wednesday that it was "blackmailing" the Reddit user who created a gif showing President Donald Trump attacking a WWE wrestler with a CNN logo superimposed on his face.
Trump's tweet on Sunday became his most retweeted message of all time. It showed the president clotheslining someone outside a WWE ring and punching him in the face several times. The edited video ended with a mock-CNN slogan that read, "Fraud News Network."
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
Reddit user "HanAssholeSolo" later took credit for creating the gif on the r/The_Donald subreddit. Looking into his other Reddit posts, CNN reporters found racist and anti-Semitic images, but also enough personal information to track down his real identity.
CNN did not publish the man's name after speaking to him and after he publicly expressed remorse for his previous posts. However, CNN was criticized in particular for adding that the network "reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change."
Critics charged that amounted to a threat to expose the user if he ever returned to his old ways. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) even suggested CNN could be charged with extortion.
(1/2) Troubling. I assume CNN's lawyers are examining GA § 16-8-16 Theft by extortion. If CNN constructively obtained the gif-maker's IP… https://t.co/ChxqocuDgc
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 5, 2017
In a statement, CNN pushed back against the claim that it extorted anyone.
"CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety," the network said. "Any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false."
"The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter," CNN continued. "CNN included its decision to withhold the user's identity in an effort to be completely transparent that there was no deal."