It’s not an elegant turn of phrase. But it is, I think, the correct terminology to capture a political moment so monstrously stupid that even Jerry Springer finds it embarrassing. To shitpost, according to the scholarly journal Urban Dictionary, is to “make utterly worthless and inane posts on an internet message board,” particularly those involving memes or low-quality visuals.
And the president’s latest act of shitposting—tweeting out a video edited to show Trump wrestling, and beating up, the CNN logo—has flung the 24-hour news network into a week-long controversy involving death threats, claims of blackmail and a Reddit user who calls himself “HanAssholeSolo.” It’s very hard to imagine having to explain that sentence to a person from 2007. But frankly, it’s also pretty hard to explain that sentence to a normal person from 2017 who doesn’t spend every waking moment following incremental developments in Trump’s blustery war with the media. (Which, probably, is healthy.)
Related: Trump blocked me on Twitter for telling him he’s not as cool as witches
Now, a week after Trump’s tweet, CNN is accused of blackmailing the Reddit user behind the wrestling clip, and the network’s journalists (and even some of their families) are being subjected to threats and harassing phone calls from pro-Trump trolls and Redditors. Curiously, the line from the CNN story that was interpreted as blackmail (a stretch) wasn’t written even by the reporter. According to Gizmodo, it was added by a CNN executive as a legal safeguard, but the threatening tone proved disastrous. But as the #CNNBlackMail hashtag spread through the alt-right this week, things got ugly. “These far-right trolls are really threatening people and coming after people,” an anonymous CNN employee told The Daily Beast. “Somebody’s gonna do something stupid at some point.”
Again, it’s really striking how the CNN Blackmail nonsense is being conducted almost exactly like Gamer Gate was.
— Katherine Cross (@Quinnae_Moon) July 7, 2017
A perceived slight, and an unfortunate editorial choice, is spun into this enormous scandal pitting Ordinary Folks against the Eebil MSM.
— Katherine Cross (@Quinnae_Moon) July 7, 2017
For observers of Gamergate, these tactics are familiar—only now the digital mob is taking inspiration from the highest reaches of government. Trump frequently approaches social media like a message board troll, so it’s darkly fitting that far-right trolls are adopting the basest instincts of internet forum culture to wage war against the president’s perceived enemy: CNN.
Trump can’t win a war against CNN in the courts. But he can continue to troll the network (and other media outlets) into chaos and disarray. Consider Trump’s 2006 battle with the journalist Tim O’Brien, who had published a book alleging that Trump’s net worth was far lower than claimed. Trump sued the author for libel, and after a lengthy legal process, the case was eventually dismissed. But Trump was pleased: “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees,” he later told The Washington Post, “and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”
It’s not farfetched to think that Trump feels similarly pleased with himself for bringing chaos to CNN. (Jeffrey A. Zucker, the president of the network, has described Trump’s behavior as “bullying.”) By casting journalists as villains in his administration, the president makes questions of objectivity even trickier to navigate. As the writer/comedian Sarah Cooper tweeted, “Journalists aren’t supposed to be the story, so by making them the story, Trump automatically makes them look biased in defending themselves.”
If you’re still confused about the state of the president’s war with CNN, here’s an explainer.
Q: Why is the president so mad at CNN?
Trump has been regularly fuming about CNN, which reports critically on him (and which he calls “Fake News”), since the campaign days. But this particular wave of hostility seems to have been prompted by a retracted CNN story regarding a “Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials.” Three journalists resigned after CNN pulled the story. The president spent days gloating about this, though it’s worth noting that when he lies, nobody resigns or issues a retraction.
Q: What about that video? Did Trump really wrestle a guy from CNN?
No. The video is an old clip of Trump’s appearance at WrestleMania. The CNN logo was superimposed over another guy’s head.
Q: Where did the doctored video come from?
Reddit, of course. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski did some digging and determined that the video originated with a Reddit user named “HanAssholeSolo,” who’s left behind a sizable trail of racist and anti-Semitic posts (including a graphic showing CNN employees with Jewish stars next to their names). Mr. Asshole Solo apologized and deleted his other posts.