Assange Accuses CNN of Committing Crime With Trump Wrestling Story (He Might Be Right)

By Ronn Blitzer

Reporters at CNN were mighty proud of themselves for tracking down a Reddit user who was supposedly behind the animated GIF image of President Donald Trump at Wrestlemania, fake fighting with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, but with McMahon’s head replaced by a CNN logo. Their story even boasted the self-congratulatory headline, “How CNN found the Reddit user behind the Trump wrestling GIF.”

The article talks about how the Reddit user apparently has a history of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim posts. CNN said they weren’t revealing his identity because he’s a private citizen who said he would stop the offensive behavior. However, the article said, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Perhaps looking to take CNN down a peg, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange decided to rain on their parade with a couple of trolling tweets, accusing them of violating federal and state laws by hanging the threat over the person’s head in case CNN thinks he ever steps out of line.

There’s more:

Now, Assange could just be having some fun at CNN’s expense for beating the GIF story further into the ground—and putting themselves at the center of it, but the truth is, he has a point. Andrew Kaczynski, the author of the article, is based in New York (as per his Twitter profile), so the NY statute could apply, assuming that’s where he and CNN published the article. Taking a look at the elements of the statute itself, New York Penal Law § 135.60 says that a person is guilty of coercion in the second degree if he:

compels or induces a person to … abstain from engaging in conduct in which he or she has a legal right to engage … by means of instilling in him or her a fear that, if the demand is not complied with, the actor or another will … Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule

CNN is saying that they will reveal the user’s private identity, currently kept anonymous in his Reddit posts, if he doesn’t stop to post offensive material (which he is legally allowed to do). That sure sounds like it fits the bill.

The federal law that Assange tweeted about is a little iffier. That statute defines conspiracy as:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States[.]

Yes, there’s a threat. Yes, posting offensive things online is a free exercise of the right to free speech. But conspiracy requires at least two people to be involved, and it’s what’s known as a “specific intent” crime. That means that the people involved have to mean to commit the offense. One could argue that Kaczynski had that intent when he wrote the threatening sentence, but for it to be conspiracy, a prosecutor would have to prove that another writer or an editor was in on it. Even assuming that at least one editor reviewed the article and published it, it would have to be proven that they were specifically including that statement after agreeing on it with Kaczynski, and not simply editing it for grammar and punctuation.

In reality, it may be likely that editors reviewed the substance of the article and approved it, but it would probably be tougher to prove than a case involving the New York law.

Either way, Assange is likely having a good laugh over it.

Ronn Blitzer is the Senior Editor of LawNewz.com and a former prosecutor in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @RonnBlitzer

This article (Assange Accuses CNN of Committing Crime With Trump Wrestling Story (He Might Be Right)) was originally published on Law News and syndicated by The Event Chronicle

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