What really happened:
Trump tweeted a meme that showed him beating up CNN, pro-wrestling style.
The adult who created the meme apologized for it and cleaned up his online act (which contained racist slurs and the usual right wing Reddit nonsense).
A few alt-right "provacateurs" lied about the age of the Redditor, saying he was a minor. That is not true.
The panel at Reliable Sources discussed:
BRIAN STELTER; John Avlon, at The Daily Beast, you had a reporter write about this issue, and about what we saw the alt-right sort of do to criticize CNN for it. What was your assessment of this?
AVLON: Look, I think what -- what is troubling is the way that what Kirsten just expired -- explained, which is a -- infelicitous language added by an editor at the request of legal, all of a sudden got made and turned into a fictitious vision of playing the victim that is amplified, moral justification, saying that it was a 15-year-old boy.
STELTER: Right, that this anonymous user was a teenager, when it was actually a middle-aged man.
AVLON: Not, in fact -- yes, very important that that fundamental lie became part of the narrative that created an aura of moral justification for a social media mob frenzy that was amplified, probably artificially, in part by bots.
But it's part of a larger pattern, which is trying to actually say that we're the real victims, we're going to swarm via social media at the very least with real threats to try to create an aura of confusion.
And if it has to be predicated on a fundamental lie to distract from the original issue, which is the president of the United States tweeting out a meme that shows violence against a news outlet, then we will do that, and we will try to play the victim and get the upper hand. And we will use social media swarm tactics to do it.
That is something new. It is something dangerous. But it's saying that we need to be very firm about not distracted by, because the whole purpose is to distract us from the real issue.
STELTER: Kirsten, I hear you agreeing?
I think that what is important about this is that they also have cast it as their free speech being infringed upon. And that is not actually accurate. My free speech is not infringed upon necessarily because I get criticized for something. So, if you are posting racist content and somebody finds out who you are, and you suffer social sanction for that, that's not an infringement on your free speech. You were free to say whatever you wanted, and you were held accountable for it.
We're all held accountable for everything that we say because we're not anonymous, right? So, what happens is, the irony is that they are actually chilling free speech, because a lot of people wouldn't write the column that I wrote, because they don't want their address posted. They don't want their parents' address posted.
They are trying to silence people and trying to keep people from saying things through the threat of actual violence.
STELTER: Ben Jacobs, do you see a connection between the virtual world, threats and harassment, and kind of all of that hate that is online directed at media companies and what happens in physical spaces, whether it's on Capitol Hill or when you're covering a Montana election?
JACOBS: Yes, I certainly -- parts of my situation were anomalous.
But having been to 18 months' worth of Trump rallies, and having seen how this bleeds in, that you're seeing it bleed in together. And this is -- to be clear, this is a very small group of folks. This is not -- as John pointed out, this is amplified by bots. This is a small group of people who are just very dedicated, for whatever reason, to pursuing journalists, but that there is that bleeding over, and that it creates something where it's becoming real issues.
And we're getting closer and closer to where that line is actually crossed between publishing addresses and showing up, as we've seen with the pizza parlor in D.C. earlier this year.
AVLON: And, look, a lot of this violent energy that's being sent out is also being sent out by members of the president's family, if not staff.
AVLON: And that complicates and I think raises the stakes significantly.
And the larger...
STELTER: But, John, they say it's just a joke, they're just joking.
AVLON: Yes. The problem is, when you have the responsibility of presidency, your ability to tweet out jokes about physically harming the free press is curtailed by common decency, if not common sense.
AVLON: And this is the larger problem.
You have got folks -- free speech is predicated upon the idea of owning your speech. When it's hidden, that is a complicating factor. When those things are intentionally amplified by positions of power, that's a major complicating factor that we need to confront.
And the overall game that we really need to deal with is that it's designed to make civil debate indecent, so that good people retreat because they don't see it as worthwhile.
That's a real challenge that we need to confront in the press and as citizens.
STELTER: John, Kirsten, Ben, thank you all very much.