There’s a little idea on the Internet called Poe’s Law: “without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing” says the law’s namesake Nathan Poe. And when combined with online journalism’s urgency to get the story first, it means there’s going to be a lot of embarrassment.
The latest high-profile case comes from the conservative bloggers at Breitbart.com. This month, they reported on an article from the Daily Currant titled “Paul Krugman Declares Personal Bankrupcy”, about how liberal economist and right-wing punching bag Paul Krugman went bankrupt all the while advocating the government’s increased deficit spending.
The problem? The Daily Currant is a satirical news outlet. Breitbart.com wasn’t the only site fooled- Boston.com also took it as the truth. But this comes only a month after they castigated The Washington Post for taking the Daily Currant seriously, and Breitbart’s John Nolte didn’t mince words when the Post did it:
“This news was then used by Parker as the basis for a piece of left-wing smuggery that ripped Palin for being so desperate to stay relevant.
There was only one problem: The story of Palin joining Al-Jazeera is, duh, 100% false. Parker fell for an “Onion”-style satire published at the parody website The Daily Currant.”
Oops. And while you can still find a shadow of the Krugman story when searching for it on their website, Breitbart.com took it down with no apology.
Speaking of which, the Daily Currant seems to be supplanting satirical stalwart The Onion as the parody news site of choice for humour-illiterate journalists. The Washington Post, in an article about Sarah Palin post-Fox, cited this article as part of her new work schedule. But, unfortunately, she did not sign on to be an anchor at Al-Jazeera America, and the Post’s critics (John Nolte) were quick to call them out on it. Since it was part of a bigger story, the Post amended the erroneous anecdote and issued an apology.
It seems that this year is already a bad one for fake news-reporting. Radio host Andy Driscoll out of St. Paul, Minnesota, shared on his Facebook page an article featuring picture of drones flying over Barack Obama’s recent inauguration. Though the image is clearly a fake, that didn’t stop his eager fans from commenting; Driscoll also didn’t seem to get it until it was too late: “Never seen three in a cluster formation like that, but they’re obviously scanning the crowd for potential trouble—all monitored by a site in Las Vegas,” he wrote. Yikes.
The Onion doesn’t just fool people in their home country- countries like Denmark, Iran, and Russia, where The Onion isn’t well-known, have all been taken for a ride. But one high profile (and funny) victim was China, where state newspaper the People’s Daily reported on this article naming Kim Jong-Un The Onion’s sexiest man alive. Upon hearing this, The Onion put an addendum on the bottom of the article: “For more coverage on The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive 2012, Kim Jong-Un, please visit our friends at the People’s Daily in China, a proud Communist subsidiary of The Onion, Inc. Exemplary reportage, comrades.”
Louisiana Rep. John Fleming was so angry by this article about Planned Parenthood’s plans for an $8 Billion Abortionplex he shared it on his Facebook account.
The tastefulness of the joke is debatable, but Fleming’s lack of research is breath-taking. It’s long since been deleted, but that didn’t prevent The Onion’s piece from going viral.
Satirical website ChristWire.org has become a thorn in the side of left-leaning news organizations and bloggers, who often take their incredibly conservative Christian articles as the real opinions of real writers. But with hardly an overt indication on their site that it IS in fact satire, ChristWire has pretty much become the definition of Poe’s Law.
Take Rachel Maddow:
But reading articles like “Pope Benedict XVI Retires Just in Time to Star in New Disney Star Trek Wars Film”, anyone who takes the time to scroll down the front page should realize something is amiss.
Fox Nation is hardly a bastion of objective journalism, but even they got carried away with The Onion story “Frustrated Obama Sends Nation 75,000-Word E-Mail”.
Not only did the editors not realize it was satire, most of the people commenting didn’t either:
Naturally, Fox Nation took it down, but they, like everyone else on the list, learned an important lesson: nothing goes away on the Internet.