CNN also received heat from another direction for its decision to withhold the user’s name.

There are many reasons to keep a name out of a story, said William Grueskin, a Columbia University professor. The person could be an abuse victim, a confidential witness whose life or job would be endangered, a source promised anonymity or a juvenile. The Reddit user “doesn’t appear to fit any of these categories,” he said.

“That puts a high expectation on other reporters, who are asked every day to withhold names and who don’t, for good reason,” he said. “Are others now supposed to engage in a negotiation with sources that illustrates moral probity and predicts future conduct?”

Indira Lakshmanan, an expert on journalism ethics for the Poynter Institute, said she has no problem with CNN finding out the user’s identity, since the person put his opinions in the public square and boasted about the president’s retweet. She said it’s more likely the user pleaded with CNN to have his name withheld out of fear than the network trying to blackmail him in any way.

Still, she said, the network could have explained its decision better and the “reserves the right” claim is unnecessarily problematic.

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