Andrew Kaczynski, who heads CNN’s investigative team, KFile, is a former Buzzfeed reporter who landed on the political radar screen as a college student when he started mining old political videos.
In July 2017, Kaczynski found himself the center of controversy over the network’s handling of an anonymous meme creator, HansA**holeSolo, whom, CNN reports, “initially claimed credit” for a Donald Trump tweet showing the president wrestling a man with a CNN logo for a head.
Critics accused CNN of threatening to “dox” the meme maker if he didn’t conform his behavior to the network’s specifications, spurring a viral hashtag #CNNBlackmail. Kaczynski and CNN defended the reporting, saying that critics were spreading misleading information, such as saying the man was a teenager when he is middle-age.
Before that controversy, though, Kaczynski broke through into national media stardom with his penchant for digging up long forgotten statements that helped shape the political process. It’s also not his first brush with reporting controversy.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kaczynski Got His Start at Buzzfeed While Still a College Student Known for Mining Old Videos
Kaczynski’s media star rose fast; he first perfected what would be his call to fame – mining old videos for forgotten political soundbites – while still in college. By 2016, he was named one of the country’s breakout media stars.
The New York Times once dubbed Kaczynski a “onetime Buzzfeed wunderkind.” He helped build Buzzfeed’s political reputation, according to The Times.
He started working for Buzzfeed in 2012 while a student at St. John’s University, reported The Times. Four years later, he was at CNN at just age 26. According to his LinkedIn page, Kaczynski has been with CNN’s KFile since October 2016.
His KFile bio says he is a senior editor and founder of the team, described as “the leading investigation team for the social, mobile generation. KFILE is widely praised as a ‘scoop team,’ known for breaking news by scouring the internet.”
He worked at Buzzfeed from December 2011 through October 2016, according to his LinkedIn page. You can see his Buzzfeed posts here.
However, Kacynski’s career really took off because of YouTube and his ability to mine videos that politicians hoped people would forget.
He’s known for digging up old statements politicians made on video and audio, mostly found online. At first, he sent his finds to national outlets like Politico. Then, he created his own YouTube channel and put them there.
Reported C-Span, “He described his role in finding, researching, and releasing old video clips of politicians, noting that some statements from a person’s early career do not reflect their current positions.”
He told C-Span in an early interview, “I think people like to see whether Mitt Romney 1994 was campaigning for welfare reform, against welfare reform, for abortion. They want to see where he was doing it during his 2002 campaign, 2007. I think people really like to see how these politicians have evolved and there’s sort of an element to it that’s almost a gotcha element, but there’s also an element that people are like this is incredibly interesting.”
St. John’s University reported that Kaczynski said the technique “started when I posted a video of David Weprin dancing really terribly at the Soul Summit Music Festival in Brooklyn in 2009,” adding that “Weprin was the one-time Democratic nominee to replace Anthony Weiner in New York’s Ninth Congressional District’s special election.” The video took off and was even featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
In 2011, New York Magazine reported, “Kaczynski’s hobby is watching old political videos, the most memorable of which he uploads to his YouTube channel.” He was still in college at the time, but what was a hobby then turned into a nationally followed career.
2. Kaczynski Has Been at the Center of Controversial Stories & Misidentified a Boston Bombing Suspect
Kaczynski’s reporting has led to many political stories that arguably helped shape races.
According to The Times, Kaczynski “dug up evidence showing that Donald J. Trump had supported the invasion of Iraq before the war” and unearthed videos of Trump in Playboy productions.
In college, Kaczynski found a series of videos that embarrassed Republican Mitt Romney and a video showing Newt Gingrich “offering support for a health-insurance mandate,” reported New York Magazine. National political reporters began following his YouTube channel. He was only 22.
At CNN, he’s written several stories that focus on political plagiarism allegations; most notably, he wrote a story that reported that Monica Crowley, a conservative chosen by Donald Trump for a “top national security communications role,” had “plagiarized large sections of her 2012 book.” His CNN bio says he uncovered “evidence Kentucky Senator Rand Paul plagiarized speeches.”
However, he’s had some missteps. Most dramatically, Kaczynski was one of those falsely identified Sunil Tripathi, a missing and now deceased Brown University student, as being one of the Boston Marathon bombers, according to New York Magazine. The magazine wrote that the misinformation started with a Twitter user who said it came from the Boston police scanner and “the next multiplier came from Andrew Kaczynski, a journalist at BuzzFeed, who sent out the police-scanner misinformation to his 81,000 followers and quickly followed up with: ‘Wow Reddit was right about the missing Brown student per the police scanner. Suspect identified as Sunil Tripathi.’” Tripathi had nothing to do with the Boston Marathon Bombing.
Kaczynski was also part of a team of reporters who elevated a tweet by Justine Sacco, a previously unknown PR director, whose comment on AIDs earned her international scorn. However, a Buzzfeed chronology on that story shows that Kaczynski was not the first person to tweet about it for the site.
Kacynski is very active on Twitter, where he sometimes laces tweets with commentary. Examples:
In the CNN controversy over HansA**holeSolo, Kaczynski has defended himself and CNN:
CNN also released a statement:
CNN did not name the Reddit user. The passage that is provoking criticism says: “CNN is not publishing ‘HanA**holeSolo’s’ name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
Critics say it’s wrong for CNN to appear to attach behavioral conditions on publishing a person’s identity; supporters say CNN showed restraint by not naming the man in the first place and noted that he had made racist and anti-Semitic posts previously. Buzzfeed quoted anonymous sources in reporting that “the line was added into the story during the editing process.” However, Kaczynski found himself the focal point all the same on Twitter as Trump supporters angrily criticized him and CNN for supposedly “blackmailing” the meme writer, which they deny.
There was even a protest planned outside Kaczynski’s home. He has written before about receiving threats. Buzzfeed reported that the video that ended up on Trump’s page was different in several respects from HansA**holeSolo’s original post.
3. Kaczynski Is Married to a Wall Street Journal Reporter & Interned for the Republican Party
In 2016, the Times reported that Kaczynski was engaged to Rachel Ensign, a Wall Street Journal banking reporter. Politico reported that the couple married in May 2017, writing, “It was decidedly non-scene! Lots of family and old friends … [celebrating a] wonderful evening at Prospect Park boathouse. The bride and groom were married by the groom’s older brother, Steve. There was a reading of a passage from ‘All the King’s Men’ and a reading of the poem ‘Ithaka.’ A live band played throughout the evening. … They met in intern group housing in D.C.”
Kaczynski, in college, started out in Republican politics as an intern.
C-Span reported in 2012 that Kaczynski “had an internship with the Republican National Committee” in 2010. He told C-SPAN that he also interned for two Congressmen but “I didn’t really enjoy being kind of partisan. I like looking at things from sort of a neutral point of view.”
Talking Points Memo reports that Kaczynski interned for Republican Bob Turner. The Times reports that the other politician whom Kaczynski interned for was Representative Dana Rohrabacher, also a Republican.
The C-Span interviewer asked Kaczynski whether it was true he was a “moderate Republican,” and he responded, “I find myself in the moderate spectrum of politics.” The year before that interview, in 2011, New York Magazine reported, “Kaczynski describes himself as a moderate Republican.”
4. Kaczynski Is Known For His Work Ethic & Was a History Major in College
The Times reported that Kaczynski didn’t even take a single day off when he switched jobs from Buzzfeed to CNN.
Andrew Kaczynski was raised in the Cleveland, Ohio area, according to C-Span. He was a history major in college.
According to The Times, Kaczynski “received a diagnosis of pancreatitis at 19” and doesn’t smoke or drink as a result, running up to six miles a day.
5. Kaczynski Is the Son of a Lawyer Who Represents a Tobacco Company
According to The New York Times, Kaczynski is the son of Stephen J. Kaczynski, who works for the law firm Jones Day and “is a litigator for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.” His mother is a homemaker, the Times reported.
Stephen Kaczynski’s law firm bio says he has practiced for 30 years “in the area of product liability litigation, most specifically, as one of the most senior litigators on the national coordinating counsel team for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the smoking and health litigation.”
According to the bio, Stephen Kaczynski “was lead trial counsel for the tobacco industry in the successful defense of the first smoking and health case to be tried in New York City. In 2002, Steve served as lead counsel for the industry in the first defense victory in California since 1985. He also has prevailed in the first smoking and health case to be tried in Manhattan in 2005.” He was previously an Army JAG Corps prosecutor, the bio says.