The entire basis of CNN’s meme witch hunt might have come crashing down Wednesday as Buzzfeed showed that the actual video’s origins are not so easily ascertained, and the network is likely harassing the wrong guy.
CNN’s KFile mounted a cyber jihad of sorts after President Donald Trump tweeted the video of a wrestling match, which was edited to make it look like the president was body-slamming the CNN logo. The network hunted down a Reddit user who took credit for the meme, reported out a profuse apology from the man, and then bizarrely threatened to reveal his identity if his behavior does not comply with the network’s standards.
KFile’s entire piece, as well as each piece CNN posted on the subject, was borne on the premise that the Reddit user who claimed credit was actually right.
Turns out, he might not have been.
A Buzzfeed analysis shows the origins of the meme Trump actually tweeted could very well trace back to a Facebook page, and that the president or his administration likely did not come across it on Reddit. The gif Trump tweeted is at best a modified version of the video HanAssholeSolo posted on Reddit. The clip he posted is longer, has different coloring, does not have the same watermark and does not include audio. Trump’s video is not even technically a gif, which is a soundless video on loop, but instead is the same clip spliced together.
Buzzfeed also noted that it would be “almost impossible” for Trump to have downloaded the video to his phone directly from Reddit because of the type of video file HanAssholeSolo shared. A much more likely scenario is that someone else downloaded the Reddit file, modified it and then shared it somewhere that got the president’s attention. That could have been through a text or email or some other means.
“Throughout all of this, we haven’t actually learned anything about where Trump and members of his inner circle are getting their memes,” Buzzfeed concludes with gravitas, seemingly as oblivious as CNN about the journalistic seriousness of memevestigations.
For its part, CNN dedicated no less than four days of prominent coverage to the meme and its origins. KFile showed particular interest in the originator’s supposed racism, which he highlighted in the story in a clear effort to smear Trump as a purveyor of bigotry and, perhaps indirectly, equate criticism of CNN with irrational hatred.
CNN editor-at-large Chris Cilizza basically accused the White House of lying about the source of the meme. Demonstrating an unbelievable lack of understanding of the way viral memes work, Cilizza puzzled over the conflicting reports from KFile and the White House:
On the one hand, we have a detailed analysis of the origin of the GIF, which first appeared on Reddit last Wednesday, and its creator acknowledging he made it.
On the other we have the White House — with no name attached! — insisting Trump didn’t get the GIF from Reddit.
Which leaves an obvious question: Where did Trump get it then?
Did he make it? (Seems unlikely.) Did someone at the White House make it? The version that Trump tweeted was slightly altered from the version on Reddit. Did someone at the White House flag it from a site other than Reddit? Who? And what site was it?
Sure, the facts all point to the CNN GIF originating from Reddit and Trump being made aware of it via that site. But, he wasn’t, according to the White House. So, who are you going to believe?
To be clear, there’s plenty of evidence as outlined by Buzzfeed to suggest the White House told the truth when it said Trump did not pull the video from Reddit. CNN’s own report now concedes this fact in the lead of the story, which notes the user “initially claimed” credit for the video. Even if the gif did show up first on Reddit, that doesn’t establish a direct line from the user behind that post and the video Trump tweeted.
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