CNN reserves right to expose maker of Trump wrestling meme later

Donald Trump attacks CNN founder Carl News Network at Wrestlemania.

The hashtag #CNNBlackmail is some high-level internet, some third-degree online hoodoo. In order to understand it, you have to know, first, that an anonymous Reddit user named HanAssholeSolo made a video by superimposing the CNN logo on old Wrestlemania footage of Donald Trump tackling Vince McMahon. That’s called satire. Repurposing pop culture with comically amateur video editing is internet degree one. The second degree happened when the president retweeted the video to his 33.3 million Twitter followers, prompting the commentariat to disgorge a clutch of takes. It also prompted CNN to go looking for the real person behind the Reddit presence named, I reiterate, HanAssholeSolo.

They found him. They elected to preserve his anonymity, though, after he issued a written apology and promised not to make any more trouble. Judging by this passage in their own report, CNN reserved the right to out him if he messes with them again:

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.

Emphasis added, naturally. The third degree of internet set in when Trump supporters interpreted that last sentence as a threat and coined the hashtag #CNNBlackmail. Let no one call me a Trump supporter, but I kind of have to agree with them. What CNN did strongly resembles blackmail. Consideration after the jump.

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73 year-old man “lands in coma” after “encounter” with Missoula police

Justice

Last month, Missoula police responded to a complaint that a man on Higgins Avenue was shining a flashlight in the eyes of passing drivers. That man was 73 year-old James Smith. Commuters may know him as the guy who sits in his yard with a heart-shaped box during rush hour. According to police affidavits, Smith hit two officers with his flashlight when they arrived at his home on May 20. After he was detained, he tried to kick and trip them. Two days later, his daughter got a call informing her that he was in a coma. Here’s Dylan Kato at the Missoulian:

Stephanie Smith, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, said that in addition to the coma, her father sustained a skull fracture, multiple facial fractures, a concussion, respiratory failure, bruised ribs, organ damage, bruising and other injuries from the incident. While he was sometimes confused or disoriented before the incident, Smith said these symptoms, as well as amnesia, have become more prominent since he was hospitalized.

What happened between when Smith was arrested and when he was hospitalized with multiple head traumas is not stated. Who can say what put this 73 year-old man in a coma? It’s a stone-cold whodunnit, as far as the Missoulian is concerned.

The reticence starts with the headline: “State investigates Missoula police after encounter lands 73-year-old man in coma.” Whatever happened was not a beating or even an arrest. It was an encounter, and it “landed” Smith in a coma the same way Bugs Bunny’s hijinks land him in trouble. “Lands” is an odd choice of verb that reflects this headline’s desire to allege as little as possible. The pathological refusal to say anyone did anything continues in the opening paragraphs:

The Montana Department of Justice is conducting a use-of-force review after an incident involving the Missoula Police Department in May ended with a 73-year-old man hospitalized in a coma. James Smith spent several days in Providence St. Patrick Hospital before he was committed involuntarily to the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs. He was released to his daughter following a court hearing May 30.

That doesn’t even say who released him, much less how he got into that coma. It was an “incident involving the Missoula Police Department,” and it “ended” with Smith near death, but beyond that we cannot say. Maybe he fell down the stairs ten times before a metal press closed on his head.

Kato has a good reason to write this way. The matter is still under investigation, and a newspaper must be careful never to blame people for things they might not have done. The passive voice is a way to maintain a scrupulous objectivity. But it can also disconnect the facts of a story so thoroughly as to distort it. When Markus Kaarma was charged with murder after shooting a teenager in his garage, the Missoulian did not report that an incident involving him ended with a 17 year-old exchange student bleeding to death. We reserve such conspicuously softened language for the police.

Reporting potential instances of police brutality as vague situations that just happened is an industry-wide habit. It reflects a journalism that has become too deferential to police. On the cops-and-crime beat, the prohibition against attributing fault to cops is so powerful as to outweigh the prohibition against the passive voice, leading otherwise strong writers into paragraphs like this:

Missoula police Detective Capt. Mike Colyer said on May 24 that he was called to the scene shortly after 2:30 a.m. on May 20. He confirmed that Smith had been hospitalized after being detained, and that due to the potential use-of-force issue, the department followed best practices and asked the Justice Department’s Division of Criminal Investigation to conduct an independent review.

Smith has been hospitalized and detained, but for what and by whom go unstated. The injuries that put him in a coma are a “potential use-of-force issue,” reinforcing the vagueness of the passive voice with some old-fashioned Orwellian euphemism. One of the paragraph’s only active verbs pops up to shine a favorable light on the police department, which “followed best practices” by asking for an independent review [of how two of its officers put an elderly man in a coma.]

I want to emphasize that this style of writing is not Kato’s invention or even his choice. He’s following standard practices in daily news reporting, and wisely so. He’s working with limited information, and he doesn’t want to smear two good cops if there is somehow an innocent explanation for all this. Neither does he want to get his paper sued. He’s got editors combing his copy to make sure that doesn’t happen, while on the other end he’s got to worry about access. If cops think he wrote a hit piece on other cops, his job as a reporter gets a lot harder. I don’t want to blame Kato for having to work under these pressures. But I do want to draw attention to the system that pressures him, and the way news reporting bends over backwards to say nothing critical of the police.

Maybe it’s not just reporters, though. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this story comes at the end, when Kato paraphrases Smith’s daughter and her husband:

They reinforced that they appreciate the help they have received from the police department, as well as lawyers in the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and the Office of the State Public Defender, since they arrived in Missoula. “The people that we dealt with are very nice, including the detective and evidence people. Over all this we do support law enforcement, we understand that they put their lives in harm’s way,” Jones said.

It does look like they almost beat her father to death, though. I was going to say that we give police too much deference. We heap praise on them whenever they become vulnerable to criticism, so that the more evidently awful things they do, the more we announce our support. That was going to be my conclusion. But if this woman doesn’t agree, who would?

Erick Erickson: Let’s consider secession

Erick Erickson considers Lipitor.

Over at his blog The Resurgent, Erick Erickson has published an essay titled Let’s Consider Secession. He doesn’t specify who “us” is. Neither does he acknowledge the disaster that unfolded last time someone had this idea. This document is not a plan or even a call to make a plan to secede. It seems like Erickson’s main goal is to be provocative. His first paragraph supports this hypothesis:

This past week has made me realize the situation in this country is unlikely to get better. We have 320 million people who hate each other and the left shows no signs of toning down rhetoric after last week’s mass assassination attempt. If anything, too many of them regret there were no deaths.

Sounds measured to me. I agree that even one person regretting no one died in last week’s shooting at a Republican baseball practice would be too many, but show me the person who said that. This claim prepares us for Erickson’s subsequent arguments that Nazism was a leftist ideology, Margaret Sanger was the “patron saint of dead kids,” and that progressives are saying Steve Scalise deserved it. He tops this outrage sundae with the big red cherry that “the political left is becoming the American ISIS.”

It’s true the DSA has taken control of several cities, and Bernie Sanders did behead that reporter. Still, it feels like Erickson is indulging in hyperbole here. It’s almost as though he built his career on inflammatory statements that thrill his fans, provoke his critics and just barely wink at the possibility it’s all an act, some species of political kayfabe.

Yet one detects a note of genuine sadness. Erickson argues that the present system is unjust, particularly in the areas of gay marriage and abortion, but that’s not his reason we should dissolve the Union. It’s that we all hate each other. He starts by literally saying that—“We have 320 million people who hate each other,” he writes, apparently counting babies—and, 700 words later, winds up here:

I am no longer an optimist about the future of this country. This past week has shown there is no incentive for the better angels of ourselves to rise. Both sides are out for blood. The only way to calm the situation is for us to part ways.

He fits in a lot of crazy bluster along the way, repeatedly referring to abortion as “killing kids” and claiming that Saul Alinsky dedicated his book to Satan, but it’s not the romp that a gratuitous call for secession ought to be. It’s more like an exasperated sigh. Erick Erickson is sad, and not in the objective way, like you want. He’s sad as the subject of his own experience as a person who is starting to feel like American democracy has broken down. In this way, is he completely different from the rest of us?

Maybe we should never pay attention to anything Erickson says or does. He is not a serious thinker. Although he has become well known, I’m not sure we can say he is influential. But we can say that he is a bomb-thrower, a purveyor of outrageous claims and terrible accusations. If he thinks politics have gotten out of hand…well, I don’t know that it’s serious. I’m certain I disagree with his historical claims and his bizarro “both sides do it” take wherein Republicans are becoming as bad as the real source of incivility in American politics, the Democrats. None of that makes any goddamn sense at all. But as I reject him out of hand, I am pained by just a sliver of agreement. I guess I am sad and worried, too.

Trump on Twitter: I am being investigated

Three-dimensional chess

I’ve spent the last several hours writing blurbs for the Indy’s upcoming Best of Missoula issue, and boy are my arms…glib. Remember yesterday, when I said there would be Friday links? I’ve got some bad news, champ. Fortunately for us, the president is refreshing the news cycle so rapidly there’s no time to look back on the week that was. This morning, he took to Twitter for this quasi-official statement:

I worry that the bizarre content of this tweet will distract from the bizarre punctuation. The president who has spent the last few weeks trying to get various members of the Department of Justice to say that he is not being investigated is, apparently, being investigated. While attempting to defend himself, he became the first person to reveal that publicly. He also thinks Witch Hunt is a title, like Duck Hunt.

This behavior is very much like that of a character in comedy. First he becomes monomaniacally dedicated to a goal—in this case, getting the word out that he is not under investigation. Then his efforts to pursue that goal bring about the opposite result—in this case, telling the world that he is under investigation. It’s times like this I’m glad there’s nothing funny about his speech patterns, or the president would seem ridiculous.

Or perhaps this is a genius gambit! Maybe, at the moment when it most appears that Trump doesn’t want people to think he is being investigated, he tells everyone he is being investigated to deprive his enemies of the opportunity to tell us themselves. It is a plan fiendish in its intricacies. Surely it is the work of a mastermind—the kind of mastermind who uses his inherited wealth to rise to the presidency and then, like a phoenix, fails at literally everything else he attempts. You’ve fooled us again, President Trump. We almost thought you were incompetent, for a second.

Eric Trump, subject of photographs

Eric Trump realizes one of the hostages is still alive.

Last night, philanthropist and third-generation millionaire Eric Trump told Sean Hannity that Democrats were “not even people” to him, given the way they obstructed his father’s agenda. His Q factor remained about the same. Even if his father weren’t the most hated man in America, Eric would have a likability problem. I blame photography. For a man who has spent an inordinate amount of his life posing for pictures, Eric has a hard time looking likable on camera. For example, here he is threatening me in church:

When someone is about to take your picture, push your jaw forward and hold your lips as close together as you can without letting them touch. That conveys the most relatable human emotion, seething rage. But don’t forget to show your lighter side, too. Here’s Eric after filling his maid’s room with pigeons:

He got her good. You think this is a weird way for him to smile, but that’s because you haven’t seen the alternative. Here he is meeting you on your first day as his new maid:

I cannot overemphasize how important it is that you never be alone with two out of the three people in this picture. Here’s Eric telling a joke at your grandmother’s funeral:

He came with your cousin, even though they’ve broken up a couple of times in the last year. But what do you want her to do? He’s rich. Here he is after learning that you still have student loan debt.

That’s cool, if you don’t have the money to pay it off. He has the money to pay it off so, personally, if he had student loans, that would be bullshit. But whatever—it takes all kinds, right? Here he is just begging us to Photoshop a dick into his picture:

Even his dad is thinking about it. You don’t think Donald Trump realizes his second son is kind of gooney? The man values appearances above all else. He knows Eric is off-putting, but he loves him. He loves his giant, gummy, probably evil son. Here they are enjoying hot dogs together:

The best part is, they were free. You tell the guy you want two dogs, he passes them down, and when he asks for the money, you tell him you already paid. If he gets his manager or something, insist that he be fired. Who are they going to side with—the hot dog guy or Donald Trump and his son? The trick is to stay close to your dad. It only works if he’s rich.