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Tilting at Windmills

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November 27, 2010

BLURRING THE SATIRICAL LINE.... Most half-way savvy news consumers know The Onion offers award-winning satire. It publishes items that look like news stories, but which are clearly intended to be funny.

With that in mind, an Onion piece this week headlined, "Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-Word E-Mail," drew some chuckles.

Having admittedly "reached the end of [his] rope," President Barack Obama sent a rambling 75,000-word e-mail to the entire nation Wednesday, revealing deep frustrations with America's political culture, his presidency, U.S. citizens, and himself.

The e-mail, which was titled "A couple things," addressed countless topics in a dense, stream-of-consciousness rant that often went on for hundreds of words without any punctuation or paragraph breaks. Throughout, the president expressed his aggravation on subjects as disparate as the war in Afghanistan, the sluggish economic recovery, his live-in mother-in-law, China's undervalued currency, Boston's Logan Airport, and tort reform.

According to its timestamp, the e-mail was sent at 4:26 a.m.

"Hey Everyone," read the first line of the president's note, which at 27 megabytes proved too large for millions of Americans' in-boxes....

It goes on from there, even including a copy of the nonexistent 75,000-word email.

Fox News' "Fox Nation" website, however, didn't get the joke. It ran this as an actual news story, including a link back to the satire-based site. Fox's commenters seemed overjoyed by the notion of an unbalanced president rambling in a semi-coherent email, unaware that they were all excited about a story that was quite literally a joke.

Hours later, Fox pulled its report, but made no effort to explain that it had fallen for a gag. Fox Nation simply deleted its entry without explanation. (Part of me isn't sure why they bothered. It's not like The Onion's piece was qualitatively less reliable than most of Fox's other "reporting.")

I am curious, though, how something like this could happen. Let's say, just for the sake of conversation, that Fox's editors have never heard of The Onion, or at a minimum, didn't realize the site is satirical. And let's also say that they found it plausible that President Obama would send a rambling, semi-coherent, 75,000-word email to the entire country.

Did it not occur to Fox's editors that neither they nor anyone they knew actually received this email? Did they not notice that literally no media outlets on the planet were talking about what would have been a big political story?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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As an old stage actor, I am aware that a review is not nearly as significant as the review's headline. I would suggest that perhaps they ran it and left it up there because the headline itself does damage, regardless of the content or the veracity of the story. Knowing that a great many readers don't bother to check, they leave the headline there to create a negative rumor that people will pass on. "I read somewhere that Obama sent a ranting email -- I think that guy is losing it." It's the sort of chatter that Fox & Friends engages in.

Posted by: Algernon on November 27, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

"There you go again" Reagan

Doubtless the simple triumphalism of the knee jerk tribe is regurgitating the pablum from the great dissembler .

It cannot be reasonably suggested as to just how important underlining the fake narratives of the knee jerk tribes tendentious knee jerk media broadcasting system .
Underlining with blonde ambition , spittle flecked tirades containing zero useful information , all with visual , vocal , and vaguely threatening musical bombast is the recipe without end at knee jerk headquarters .

Posted by: FRP on November 27, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Algernon's assessment is right on...that and it has an "old man yells at cloud" quality. Any negative link they can find, even if it's totally bogus.

Posted by: Phil in Denver on November 27, 2010 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

The Seven Against Thebes

By Aeschylus

This is the first book in my e library seventy pages and less than ten thousand words .

Posted by: FRP on November 27, 2010 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

@Algernon, in addition, look at the scrolls used by FAUX. They must know many of their viewers only look at scrolls, as well. I remember, several years ago, when I would drop by their site. A trial was starting in Houston for a mother who had been accused of killing her children. The other networks used scrolls which had some solemness to them, but, FAUX ran "Mommy Killer on trial". They know they cater to the same folks who get their "news" from glancing at the headlines of Star and other pulp trash while waiting for the cashier.

Posted by: berttheclock on November 27, 2010 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Why the White House doesn't yank all Fox reporters' press passes I just don't understand.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on November 27, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

One additional minor point which seems worth noting: after their mistake was pointed out (I read about it on TPM yesterday, a few hours after the original story was posted), Fox Nation changed their headline slightly, so that it was prefaced by "The Onion:". So obviously they realized they screwed up and thought they could correct it by simply pointing out the source of the joke. Presumably when the howls of laughter at their expense refused to let up, they just decided to pull it completely. Amazing, and pitiful.

Posted by: E.Hatt-Swank on November 27, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, I think you're being a little unfair here. Google 'The Onion,' and the first line to come up says 'America's Finest News Source.' Another hit that pops up: 'The network's style of hard-hitting, on-the-ground coverage of live news events...'

Posted by: Ben on November 27, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Devious? Perhaps.

Or, perhaps, the Folks at Fox dwell, like North Korea, in an isolation bubble, with all incoming info vetted for synchronicity with the Gospel of Murdoch. ("Dear Leader" to his faithful employees.)

Posted by: DAY on November 27, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

It's amazing how the dittoheads can believe utterly contradictory things - Obama the Nazi Communist Dope Fiend ACLU-loving Violator of Civil Liberties Death Panels Nanny State Caretaker Radical Muslim Elitist Liberal. Fox is just there to serve garbage to excitable airheads. Hate first, think last.

Posted by: walt on November 27, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

It reminds me of the fact that many "wing nut" conservatives think Stephen Colbert is one of them.

Posted by: Miss T on November 27, 2010 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

I once sent a satirical piece from Mad Magazine to my conservative brother. He didn't recognize it as satire either and became indignantly defensive which was almost as funny as the satire itself.

Posted by: tomb on November 27, 2010 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK
And let's also say that they found it plausible that President Obama would send a rambling, semi-coherent, 75,000-word email to the entire country.

And also that such a thing would even be possible -- as if the federal government, or Obama himself, has everyone's e-mail address.

Posted by: navamske on November 27, 2010 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

Commenters bought it, until #61 pointed out it was satire. Even after that, Faux commenters thought it real, some even saying 'they knew someone who received it' in their inbox as proof.

I'd say it's kind of like how they believe in God, but that'd be cruel.

Posted by: vertalio on November 27, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

"FOX editors."
You made a funny!!!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on November 27, 2010 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

"has everyone's e-mail address"

So, we can drop our Red Alert for black clad UN troops descending from Black Helos distributing leaflets of his message as they storm our homes and attempt to pry our guns from our cold dead hands?

Tell the teenagers to drop their AK-47s and get back to their computers. A Nation must be saved.

Posted by: berttheclock on November 27, 2010 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

My first question is why anyone even at Fox would not at first look at the supposed 75,000 word email before publishing the story. That's sort of basic journalism. Yeah yeah I know... It's Fox. But if I thought the story was real and I clicked on the link and there was nothing there, then I would think that...

Oh, fuck it. It's Fox News. Why am I even bothering!

Posted by: swarty on November 27, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Doocy, guest poster at Fox Nation, the stupidest man in media.

Posted by: Mxyzptlk on November 27, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, of greater concern to me was the fact that there was almost nothing The Onion couldn't make up and/ or satirize about the Republicans that the Bush Administration wouldn't turn into reality.

Posted by: Kiweagle on November 27, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't it rather naive to think that Fox Faux News didn't know it was dealing with a joke? If it looks like it damages Obama, no matter how unrealistic or obviously fake, they'll run with it. The worshipers of Fox need to be stoked constantly, and since they never read past a headline, certainly not a 75,000 word parody of some sort, it serves their purposes. They are geniuses at propaganda, and The Onion didn't realize it was playing right into the right-wing mindset.

Posted by: rrk1 on November 27, 2010 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

75000 words / 50 wpm (doubtful that Obama types significantly faster than that)

= 1500 minutes, or 25 hours of non-stop typing. Fox news producers are too dumb to tie their own shoes.

Posted by: kth on November 27, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK


I suspect the "FOX pas" was completely intentional. FOX knows that millions of its viewers treat every single word it publishes as truth. If it can snooker some of them into thinking the President is deranged great! It snookered its viewers into thinking that Bush and Cheney weren't crazy. Besides, it's no less nutso than most of the madness circulating right wing and Tea Party list serves.


Posted by: Bob on November 27, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

FOX News Runs With Onion Story
#1 Ranked News Network Fooled By Popular Satirical Paper
FOX No Longer Requires AP, Uses Onion Instead
FOX Sued By Onion For Using Their Material Without Permission

Headlines I'd like to see in the MSN.

Fox is just there to serve garbage to excitable airheads. Posted by: walt

Will " FOX News- Serving garbage to excitable airheads " fit on a bumper sticker?

Posted by: BetweenTheLines on November 27, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Exhibit A from The Onion on their desperate struggle to satirize Bush instead of accidentally predicting the future: Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'.

The article was published January 17, 2001...

Remember how many times the words "irony is dead" were used during the 8 long and heinous years of Dubya?

Posted by: Kiweagle on November 27, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

They live in a bubble, report in a bubble and their readers are in the bubble. It's scary. There is no 'outside' as all of that is liberal, socialist, facist, etc. etc. That is why they are trying to rewrite history into the textbooks so people will live in the bubble with them. Michele Bachman trying to teach the Constitution from the bubble. And when you come at them with real facts, they attack you. Incredible.

Posted by: SYSPROG on November 27, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

These are the same folks who have a remarkable tendency to "accidentally" list Republican leaders who get in trouble as Democrats. It's all just one more propaganda trick.

I suppose the main goal is to give the low-information, high-passion voters something else to talk about at the water cooler. But I also suspect that these tactics are designed to intimidate Democrats.

Posted by: Dr Lemming on November 27, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

I've said it before, I'll say it again: there is something about the conservative mind that does not recognize satire. It just doesn't click with them. I suppose it says something about self-awareness, but I'm no psychologist.

Posted by: buckyor on November 27, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Have you considered the more likely possibility that they knew exactly what they were posting?

Hell, FOX routinely posts stuff they know is crap...straight out of Grover Norquist's weekly bullet points list of nonsense. They will claim they are covering Tea Party events with "50,000 participants," right after being told by a supposed crowd expert that it is less than a fifth of that.

So they find the Onion story. They post it. And they do so knowing it is false, but also knowing that for many of their site visitors, that will be not a matter of interest.....just the gist of the story....that Obama supposedly e mailed out a rambling message of massive length.

People remember the "fact." They generally are not around to get the nuance. Witness Obama is not an American, death panels, Obamacare, TARP was Obama's program, and the majority of Americans oppose Health Care reform.

It's a nasty formula, but one which has clearly worked and worked repeatedly over the past decade. Keep lying.....even when you know it is a lie....even when the lie has been publicly debunked....even when you made it up yourself......because repetition of the lie eventually works its way into the fabric of the public discourse.

I gotta go find those Weapons of Mass Destruction Saddam hid from us. I KNOW they are there somewhere.

Posted by: dweb on November 27, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

FOXNEWS decision-makers need to know two words from yesteryear, as they are themselves from another time:

Egad you morons!

Pshaw to your intellectual abilities!

I'd say FOXNEWS is the looney toons of the news media, but I'd be insulting the writers of such great cartoons! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 27, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

On the one hand I would say Fox's problem is you can't satirize something from a context that is already satire, it's like a double negative.

Like when they tried to create a comedy hour to rival Jon Stewart. What did they do? Nothing they don't do anyway. The more they labored to be funny about something the more it turned into them just pointing and staring.

On the other hand Bob @10:20 may have it right,

they simply flung it out there for the gullible until someone noticed because a lot of numbskulls will buy it and it will just stick in their brains further motivating their hate and derangement.

Want to bet Rush will blather on about this periodically for the next fifteen years?

Posted by: cld on November 27, 2010 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Did it not occur to Fox's editors that neither they nor anyone they knew actually received this email?

Naw, the story fit their world view too well. To them, the idea that a President who "has to use a teleprompter" would send out such a ridiculous email seems entirely plausible. In the same vein, when the left derides the former half-term governor of Alaska as a dimbulb with few policy credentials, the right turns around and says that Obama is exactly the same and they believe it to be true. It's not as if he taught constitutional law at one of the top law schools in the country.

Posted by: josef on November 27, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

What exactly is the downside for Fox News in running this story? They have next-to-no credibility to lose with the reality-based community, and it gets an anti-Obama meme out circulating among their determinedly low-information audience. They pull the article soon enough that mealy-mouthed mainstream Villagers can pretend it was a "mistake" and chuckle about how silly, and we all move on. But the meme still circulates in the fever swamp of Fox News true believers.

Sounds like a win for Fox News overall.

Posted by: biggerbox on November 27, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Now the "The Onion" can't do a story about how Fox hijacked one of their satirical stories and presented it as news. This says it all about Fox and its catatonic audience.

Posted by: max on November 27, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

From the article:
"Did it not occur to Fox's editors that neither they nor anyone they knew actually received this email? Did they not notice that literally no media outlets on the planet were talking about what would have been a big political story?"

Do you think anyone at Fox even remembers what real news is?

Posted by: max on November 27, 2010 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK
Do you think anyone at Fox even remembers what real news is?

In order to remember it, they'd first have to have encountered it or known of it. I wouldn't assume that they have.

Posted by: navamske on November 27, 2010 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

It's just the same as putting "D" after an errant Republican's name when it suits them . . . a certain kind of person sees it on the screen and just accepts it.

If you believe in people shredders and death panels, why would you question a 75,000-word email?

Fox News viewers are nothing if not gullible.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on November 27, 2010 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

This complaint from the liberals who can't tell the difference between Saturday Night Live skits and Comedy Central and the news? According to a Zogby poll, a majority of Obama voters actually think Palin said she is a foreign policy expert because she can see Russia from her house. Of course, Palin never said it: Tina Fey said it on Saturday Night Live. And look how the liberal Democrats brag that their young voters get most of their news from Comedy Central. In addition, who are liberals to complain when they are too biased to see partisan bias they agree with in liberal media like the NY Times, Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, NPR, PBS, the AP, etc. To many liberals, the ONLY bias is Fox News.

Posted by: Joe on November 28, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Joe, there are lots of confused "people" out there on all sides, we get that. But the point was - it was the *Fox network* that did this, without checking. They're supposed to be pros, not some casual person in the street, got that? Furthermore, we are criticising the other media outlets all the time, and most of us for example, realized that Palin's NK gaffe was just that. (She, OTOH, falsely claimed it became a big deal, that she referred to SK on her own, and that she corrected herself.) Your fatuous comparison is typical of the shoddy reasoning I see from your camp.

Fine minds make fine distinctions.

Posted by: neil b on November 29, 2010 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, just because the show is "Comedy Central" doesn't mean the are dishonest like faux. And also, most of those kids get news from Google feed, blogs like this, etc. - they get their *commentary* from CC.

Posted by: neil b' on November 29, 2010 at 7:49 AM | PERMALINK

Hey neil b,

A few problems with your attempt to look even-handed and intelligent.

1. You are only responding to me, and not the posts of your fellow liberals generalizing about all conservatives based on one mistake at Fox.

2. You neglect to address a Zogby Poll I mentioned that shows that most liberal Obama supporters actually believed that Palin said she was a foreign policy expert because she can see Russia from her house. That of course, was a Saturday Night skit with Tina Fey.

3. Your liberal news sources lie all the time when they claim they are objective news.

4. Of course "Comedy Central" is dishonest. In fact, they claimed their Sumner-Redstone-Get-Out-the-Young-Democratic-vote-on-the-Weekend-Before-the-Elections rally was not political. Did you believe them?

5. You are trashing Fox for getting something wrong? Are you claiming your liberal media doesn't get anything wrong? Remember when Newsweek wrongly reported that soldiers urinated on the Koran causing riots and death? Probably the only more gullible than a liberal is a radical Moslem.

6. The liberal media trashed Palin for the simple NK slip of the tongue because it fit with their false narrative of her. Just because you were one of the few liberals who did not go berserk, doesn�t mean your fellow liberals did not, nor does it mean that the liberal media covered it fairly.

Posted by: JOe on November 29, 2010 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

This is my favorite site of all time! http://kalskjdsofwoierwrtwetitponfmhphkdgf.com/fart.html -Gail

Posted by: Gail on February 21, 2011 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK



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