Adam Ford, founder of Christian satire site the Babylon Bee, on Monday hopped on Twitter to take issue with CNN's "disinformation" reporter for "taking shots" at the Bee over one of its viral stories that was more popular than top CNN and New York Times' pieces — and that some readers believed was true.
And in the process, Ford unearthed numerous tweets from CNN's Donie O'Sullivan that appeared to praise the Onion — another popular satire site — and directly linked to stories from the Onion.
What are the details?
Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst specializing in disinformation and fake news, on Sunday lamented on Twitter about a Bee article titled, "Democrats Call For Flags To Be Flown At Half-Mast To Grieve Death Of Soleimani." Otis said the Bee piece "has been shared more than 500k times" and that "some family members just called [because] their Republican friends on FB are circulating it like it's legit. We have a lot of work to do, all."
With that, O'Sullivan chimed in with the following: "To put this in perspective, this is the same number of engagements the top NY Times and CNN stories on Facebook had over the past week. A lot of people sharing this 'satirical' story on Facebook don't know it is satire."
He added: "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."
O'Sullivan also added comments left by Facebook users who shared the Bee piece, such as "1/2 flag for the death of an Iranian terrorist. Seriously?" "I wish this was a joke! Half of the left has gone full Anti-America, full terrorist supporter this week!" and "I wish this was satire"
He also posted a link to last August's New York Times article, "Satire or Deceit? Christian Humor Site Feuds With Snopes."
What else did the Bee founder have to say?
In his Twitter thread, Ford — tongue fully in cheek — wondered if O'Sullivan harped on the Onion for the same thing.
"There are websites dedicated to chronicling reactions from people who think Onion stories are real," Ford noted in a subsequent tweet. "Foreign leaders have famously been fooled by Onion articles. And this guy's bio says he 'covers disinformation' for CNN. Surely he has taken the Onion to task as well, yes?"
Ford then posted results from a Twitter search of O'Sullivan's account which he said shows the CNN reporter "looks like ... quite the fan" of the Onion:
Two of O'Sullivan's tweets Ford found called an Onion piece "excellent" and that the site was "on fire this week." Ford then added more search results showing O'Sullivan directly linking to Onion pieces:
To be fair, O'Sullivan in 2014 did tweet a link to a Mashable article titled, "Facebook Testing 'Satire' Tags for Sites Like The Onion."
O'Sullivan on Monday didn't immediately respond to TheBlaze's request for comment on Ford's Twitter thread.
And regarding his tweet about having a satire "disclaimer buried somewhere on your site," TheBlaze pointed out to O'Sullivan that the Babylon Bee's "About Us" section clearly states that it's satire in the first sentence while the "About the Onion" page doesn't mention the word "satire" until after the introductory paragraphs, in the middle of the FAQs, and not nearly as explicitly. TheBlaze asked O'Sullivan, based on the latter, if he views both sites as equally revealing intent to readers.
How did folks react to Ford's assertions and discoveries?
As you might expect, Ford's Twitter thread got commenters quite riled up about the effectiveness of the Babylon Bee's satire and fake news in general:
- "It is actually funny that a CNN reporter is griping about satire."
- "The problem here is quite obvious: there are people out there sharing NY Times and CNN stories believing they're real news stories."
- "Mainstream media hates free speech."
- "CNN is jealous because the Bee gives more accurate news."
- "What really chaps his backside is the idea that without some mixture of truth, satire would ring boringly hollow. It's that little bit of truth that makes it so engagingly funny. You guys get too close to their idols."
- "This says a lot more about CNN and the NYT than it does about the Bee."
- "The reason it's so hard to distinguish satire from news these days is that the mainstream media has become so satirical with their insane articles. You guys at @TheBabylonBee are awesome. Keep up the great work!"