Conservative satire as popular as mainstream news, journalists and cyberwarriors furious
A satirical article claiming the Democratic Party is officially mourning the death of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani has been shared more times than most CNN and New York Times articles, annoying the joke police.
Soleimani, who commanded the Iranian military Quds Force, was killed in an American airstrike last week, an assassination which raised already high tensions between Washington and Tehran to boiling point. Democrats criticized Trump for ordering Soleimani’s killing, prompting conservative satire site the Babylon Bee to put its own spin on events.
“Democrats call for flags to be flown at half-mast to grieve death of Soleimani,” read a headline from the site on Friday.
Democrats Call For Flags To Be Flown At Half-Mast To Grieve Death Of Soleimani https://t.co/MR0FIaFKsv— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) January 3, 2020
"As a nation, we need to stop and grieve this great, austere, revered religious scholar. He was one of the good ones,” the Bee parodied Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar as saying, riffing on the description used by the Washington Post in its obituary for Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October.
“Later, Democrats clarified they meant we should fly the Iranian flag at half-mast, not the ‘offensive and problematic’ American flag,” the article concluded.
The article was shared more than 720,000 times, which didn’t go down well with CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, who claimed that it received the same number of engagements as the top New York Times and CNN stories over the past week.
“A lot of people sharing this ‘satirical’ story on Facebook don’t know it’s satire,” O’Sullivan tweeted, before accusing the Babylon Bee of spreading “clickbait and misinformation” under the guise of satire.
Having a disclaimer buried somewhere on your site that says it’s “satire” seems like a good way to get around a lot of the changes Facebook has made to reduce the spread of clickbait and misinformation.— Donie O'Sullivan (@donie) January 5, 2020
“Some family members just called bc their Republican friends on FB are circulating it like it's legit,” former CIA analyst Cindy Otis chipped in. “We have a lot of work to do, all.”
“Someday I’m going to write a whole screed on ‘satirical/humor’ websites. Today, however, is not that day,” Otis continued.
Indeed, the Babylon Bee’s brand of right-wing humor has annoyed liberal journalists before. Though positioning itself as a political satire outlet in the vein of the Onion, the Bee has been ‘fact-checked’ by Snopes dozens of times. These fact checks saw the Bee threatened with demonetization by Facebook, prompting the Bee to accuse Snopes of being “actively engaged in an effort to discredit and deplatform us.”
In one case, Snopes ran a fact check on the Bee’s obviously ludicrous claim that a new California law requires Christians to “register bibles as assault weapons,” declaring it “false” for anyone lacking the common sense to figure that out for themselves - or anyone who missed the site’s footer, which reads “The Babylon Bee is your trusted source for Christian news satire.”
O’Sullivan was roasted on Twitter for his alarmist Twitter thread. “The only difference between Babylon Bee and CNN is that the Babylon Bee knows it’s a parody,” wrote journalist Sean Davis.
"people are stupid, myself included, which makes Babylon Bee not satire "Holy shit dude. Quit this profession. https://t.co/H5EMlrm1HG— neontaster (@neontaster) January 6, 2020
The freakout on the chin-scratching journo left over Babylon Bee--which never disguises its satirical purpose and isn't exactly obscure, either--is so stunningly hypocritical because what they're really saying is "it's okay for The Onion, but these guys mock the wrong people."— Esoteric Jeff (@EsotericCD) January 6, 2020
The only difference between Babylon Bee and CNN is that the Babylon Bee knows it’s a parody. https://t.co/NlaVVjXfgp— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) January 6, 2020
However, satire often goes over the heads of its audience. China’s ‘People’s Daily’ was fooled by a 2012 Onion article declaring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un the “Sexiest Man Alive.” The People’s Daily reported the story as news, before pulling the piece from its website. Iran’s Fars News Agency also fell for the Onion’s antics, reposting an article claiming that 77 percent of rural Americans would “rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad” than Barack Obama, without realizing it was satire.
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