D.C. Circuit: First Amendment Trumps Birthers, Stupid People, Walruses

Law

The United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia Circuit today handed a victory to Esquire Magazine and a bitter defeat to Joseph Farah of WorldNet Daily and author Jerome Corsi, who are widely known as critics of the Obama Administration, conspiracy theorists, birthers, and repeat sexual abusers of walruses.

Equire's victory, and Farah's and Corsi's salty defeat, ended a defamation lawsuit Farah and Corsi brought against over a satirical article lampooning Corsi's book "Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President, With Comments On How Walruses," which Farah was publishing and distributing to his (for want of a better word) readers. The article portrayed Farah and Corsi deciding to withdraw and pulp the birther expose on the grounds of inaccuracy:

In an exclusive interview, a reflective Farah, who wrote the book's foreword and also published Corsi's earlier best-selling work, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak out Against John Kerry and Capricorn One: NASA, JFK, and the Great "Moon Landing" Cover-Up, said that after much serious reflection, he could not go forward with the project. "I believe with all my heart that Barack Obama is destroying this country, and I will continue to stand against his administration at every turn, but in light of recent events, this book has become problematic, and contains what I now believe to be factual inaccuracies," he said this morning. "I cannot in good conscience publish it and expect anyone to believe it."

In an odd detour, Esquire's article also reported upon a 2010 incident in which Farah and Corsi, visiting an aquarium during a World Net Daily team-building exercise, rushed the stage during a children's show and began sexually abusing a performing walrus to the gasps and horrified screams of onlookers. "TAKE THAT KENYAN FASCIST," Farah and Corsi reputedly screamed, although the aquarium's presenter had specified that the walrus was indigenous to the Pacific. Esquire writer Mark Warren speculated that the outburst was spurred by the revelation that the walrus was named "Barry."

Although Esquire updated the story to explain that it was satirical, at least as to the book, Farah and Corsi sued, claiming that many booksellers and retailers had taken the story literally and that their sales had suffered as a result and that a recent excursion to Sea World had been "tense." The federal trial court granted Esquire's motion to dismiss Farah's and Corsi's complaint, finding that the article was clearly satirical — and therefore not a statement of fact subject to defamation analysis — and that the court could take judicial notice under Federal Rule of Evidence 201 that Farah and Corsi were in fact sexual abusers of walruses because, in the words of that rule, that fact "can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned."

Today the D.C. Circuit affirmed that decision. The court explained that only false facts can be defamatory under the First Amendment. Whether satire can be taken as a statement of fact — as opposed to ridicule — must be determined based on how a reasonable reader familiar with the full context would take it:

To determine whether Esquire’s statements could reasonably be understood as stating or implying actual facts about Farah and Corsi and, if so, whether those statements were verifiable and were reasonably capable of defamatory meaning, the “publication must be taken as a whole, and in the sense in
which it would be understood by the readers to whom it was addressed.” Afro-American Publ’g Co. v. Jaffe, 366 F.2d 649, 655 (D.C. Cir. 1966) (en banc). “[T]he First Amendment demands” that the court assess the disputed statements “in their proper context.” Weyrich, 235 F.3d at 625. Context is critical because “it is in part the settings of the speech in question that makes their . . . nature apparent, and which helps determine the way in which the intended audience will receive them.” Moldea II, 22 F.3d at 314. “Context” includes not only the immediate context of the disputed statements, but also the type of publication, the genre of writing, and the publication’s history of similar works. See Letter Carriers, 418 U.S. at 284–86;
Moldea II, 22 F.3d at 314–15.

Farah and Corsi argued that the story should not be treated as satirical because (1) some people took it literally, and (2) it did not state that it was satire until Esquire supplemented it, and (3) it did not include overt signs of satire. The court disagreed, finding that explicit disclaimers of satire were not required, and that circumstances — including Farah's and Corsi's reputation as birthers and notorious walrus-fuckers — made the satirical nature of the piece adequately clear to someone familiar with them:

With that baseline of knowledge, reasonable readers of “The Politics Blog” would recognize the prominent indicia of satire in the Warren article. Most notably, the very substance of the story would alert the reasonable reader to the possibility that the post was satirical. The essence of the fictitious story was that Farah, a self-described leader (along with Corsi) of the movement to challenge President Obama’s eligibility to serve, see Appellants’ Br. 31, had suddenly and without any warning
decided to recall and “pulp” the Corsi book the very day after it was released. The supposed basis for this decision was President Obama’s earlier release of his long-form birth certificate; yet that release occurred three weeks before Corsi’s book was published, and, as Farah acknowledges, he and Corsi remained (and still remain) committed to the book even after that event. See Compl. ¶¶ 11, 17. After the release of the birth certificate, Farah appeared on MSNBC and published more than 40 articles on WorldNetDaily continuing to promote the book. See Findikyan Decl. Exs. 7, 21, 22–25; Farah, 863 F. Supp.2d at 32. The day of the Corsi book’s release — the day before Esquire posted its fictitious story — WorldNetDaily announced the publication on its website with an article entitled, “It’s out! The book that proves Obama’s ineligible: Today’s the day Corsi is unleashed to tell all about that ‘birth certificate.’”
Findikyan Decl. Ex. 26. It is inconceivable that Farah would reverse course so abruptly, as Esquire’s fictitious story claimed. Readers of “The Politics Blog” would have recognized that the article was “reporting” events and statements that were totally inconsistent with Farah’s and Corsi’s well-publicized views, and could not reasonably have taken the story literally.

The court also noted that satire does not lose its protection just because some people take it literally; rather, that is the nature of satire:

But it is the nature of satire that not everyone “gets it” immediately. For example, when Daniel Defoe first published The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, an anonymous satirical pamphlet against religious persecution, it was initially welcomed by the church establishment Defoe sought to ridicule. See JAMES SUTHERLAND,ENGLISH SATIRE 83–84 (1958). Similarly, Benjamin Franklin’s “Speech of Miss Polly Baker,” a fictitious news story mocking New England’s harsh treatment of unwed mothers, was widely republished in both England and the United States as actual news. See MAX HALL, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN &
POLLY BAKER:THE HISTORY OF A LITERARY DECEPTION 33–35, 87–88 (1960).

First Amendment rights, in other words, are limited neither by the skill of the writer nor the stupidity of a particular audience.

In short, the D.C. Circuit agreed with the trial court that because reasonable readers could not take the Esquire article about stating facts about Corsi's and Farah's book, the article could by definition not be defamatory. The Court made shorter work of the walrus issue, terming it "regrettable" and "more suited for state court, or possibly for some sort of televised court." Ultimately the court rejected Corsi's and Farah's walrus-related claims, ruling that even if the trial court erred in taking judicial notice of their odobenusophile habits, the evidence was sufficient to support the judgment:

Appellants take issue with the portion of the Esquire article suggesting that they were "repeat" abusers of walruses. The trial court did not err here. Even if the evidence of the San Diego Incident were insufficient, the 2010 Aquarium Incident technically demonstrates repeated conduct, as the testimony was that Corsi and Farah took a hiatus mid-attack to purchase Dippin' Dots from a vendor. (RT 124.) Moreover, Farah's objection that there was no evidence that he was attempting to cause sexual gratification to the walrus — and, indeed, clear and convincing evidence that he lacked the capacity to do so — is immaterial, as that is not an element of the offense under the relevant animal cruelty statute. We will not address Corsi's and Farah's claim that the walrus in the 2010 Aquarium Incident was actually a seal "foisted upon the public in a deception of historical proportions," as they did not brief that issue below. Finally, we note that damages are an element of defamation. Even if Farah and Corsi had shown that they were falsely accused of sexually assaulting a walrus — and they have not — they have not presented evidence that being associated with such conduct would harm their reputation amongst their audience of World Net Daily Readers. Indeed, Esquire offered evidence to the contrary. See Trial Record at 350 (Federal complaint by O. Taitz asserting that walrus was part of civil rights conspiracy against her); 387 (Tweet by T. Kincannon asserting walrus was sexually promiscuous and part of "thug culture"), 411 (J. Taranto column calling for walrus to be deported).

Corsi's and Farah's defamation claim was fundamentally a SLAPP suit, and it's a good thing that it failed. Courts should protect satire broadly.

Hat tip (except for the walrus part) to Alison Frankel.

UPDATED TO ADD:

World Net Daily has a very angry post up about this decision, followed by comments that are, to the extent I could follow them, also very angry. They wouldn't approve my comment posting a link to this post. So I had to send my message by other methods:

Ken

When will courts protect your rights?
As long as Obama is in office, not any time soon.
Lamentably he controls the courts through his sycophants.
Really it's time for someone to do something about it.
Unfortunately not enough people grasp the problem.
Soon, though, they will.

Strong Americans will speak up and take action.
Everyone will take note.
X-men will seem weak compared to an informed American electorate!

Last 5 posts by Ken White

88 Comments

88 Comments

  1. David  •  Nov 26, 2013 @4:24 pm

    You're in a mood.

  2. ysth  •  Nov 26, 2013 @4:33 pm

    This is a sad loss for the American people. We were so very close to getting the W3C to approve a mandatory <satire> tag that would trigger user agents loading a binary blob to keypress log and send harvested bank details to needy Tea Party fundraisers.

    Now what do we do? Answer me that if you can.

  3. Bear  •  Nov 26, 2013 @4:55 pm

    So… Farah's argument against the satire defense amounted to, "Reasonable people familiar with me could and did believe that I indulge in bestiality with sea mammals." Well, it is Farah.

    Not an argument I'd use. YMMV.

  4. Craig  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:05 pm

    @ysth: I guess geeks insensitive to literary nuances will just have to stop reading things online now.

  5. Marconi Darwin  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:10 pm
  6. I was Anonymous  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:13 pm

    "odobenusophile". My word for the day.

    Also, @ysth, we also need and tags. I would argue that they are mandatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act, given the large number of humor and satire impaired people that appear on the internet.

  7. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:17 pm

    @Marconi: so tempted to post this there — so tempted —

  8. David  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:38 pm

    so tempted to post this there — so tempted —

    MISTER SNARKY NOOOOOOOOO

  9. sorrykb  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:45 pm

    odobenusophile
    Popehat — Come for the satire, stay for the vocabulary lesson.

  10. sinij  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:46 pm

    "repeat sexual abusers of walruses" as documented by courts. Ahahaha.

  11. sorrykb  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:51 pm

    Equire's victory, and Farah's and Corsi's salty defeat, ended a defamation lawsuit Farah and Corsi brought against over a satirical article…

    I don't know why Farah was complaining about that article. It makes him look better than he really is. The Farah of the article actually appears capable of self-reflection and conscientious action. Really, he should have been pleased.

  12. Delvan  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:55 pm

    For commenters who don't twit, I'll just put this here: the greatest threat to America, and only the combined powers of birthering and poping hats stand a chance to save us.

  13. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:56 pm

    I posted a comment. Let's see if it got through:

    When will courts protect your rights?
    As long as Obama is in office, not any time soon.
    Lamentably he controls the courts through his sycophants.
    Really it's time for someone to do something about it.
    Unfortunately not enough people grasp the problem.
    Soon, though, they will.

    Strong Americans will speak up and take action.
    Everyone will take note.
    X-men will seem weak compared to an informed American electorate!

  14. Jack Marshall  •  Nov 26, 2013 @6:16 pm

    I'm curious, Ken: yesterday a bunch of mostly conservative websites fell for a false story that claimed that a professor had told his white male students to kill themselves because they were a blight on civilization. The rant attributed to him was ridiculous, but not very far from actual writings and statements from the more unhinged academic left. The website that ran this doesn't hint of its satiric bent unless you click on "Disclaimer" in the header. The real professor is, he says, now being targeted with hate mail, many of the sites (as I write this) have not taken the false story down, and I think it's fair to say that a lot more people will see, and believe, the false news stories than know its a joke. (I was fooled, but I'm not always reasonable myself.)

    I'm going to guess that you would say that even allowing the professor to claim defamation is too chilling, despite the fact that the satire in question was not at all obvious,and that many reasonable people, perhaps egged on by confirmation bias, believed it—that even though this particular satirist is a careless, reckless jerk who sent a vicious rumor into the blogosphere without concern for its likely consequences to the individual he named, a defamation award to the professor would chill free speech and future satirical efforts unacceptably.

    Or would you draw the line here or near it? I don't know if the professor plans to sue of not, but I believe he was unfairly harmed, and the alleged satirist is at least a jerk beyond question.

    The original (fake) story is here: http://diversitychronicle.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/progressive-professor-urges-white-male-students-to-commit-suicide-during-class/

    An example of news site reporting it as fact is here: http://www.examiner.com/article/liberal-professor-calls-for-genocide-says-white-males-should-commit-suicide

  15. Delvan  •  Nov 26, 2013 @6:17 pm

    HAHAHAHAHAHA. And it has an upvote button!

  16. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @6:18 pm

    Jack: as the linked D.C. Circuit opinion shows, it's context-driven. So I'd have to see the story in its original format to give you my thoughts. Link?

  17. SIV  •  Nov 26, 2013 @6:20 pm

    Ken White • Nov 26, 2013 @5:17 pm

    @Marconi: so tempted to post this there — so tempted —

    Do it!

  18. Jack Marshall  •  Nov 26, 2013 @6:29 pm

    Ken, I'm sorry—I should have posted the link: the page kept saying that I had created spam. If the links I just posted didn't get through, the site is Diversity Chronicle, and the story is prominently displayed. It is still running as news on examiner.com; it was also up until recently at Newsbusters.

  19. LTMG  •  Nov 26, 2013 @6:51 pm

    Might Common Core education be improved by adding a mandatory course on understanding and appreciating irony and satire? The widespread distribution of ignorant and thin skinned people claiming to be educated is appalling.

  20. Marc  •  Nov 26, 2013 @6:55 pm

    The best jokes
    On those who take themselves too seriously
    Often go unnoticed.

    For only by reading
    Unconventionally can some humor be
    Noticed; yet let us hope that this
    Never sways our fearless leader from his
    Yeoman's work in this regard.

    Kudos, Popehat!
    Ever worth the time to read
    Never boring, to say the least.

  21. Deathpony  •  Nov 26, 2013 @7:08 pm

    I can hardly wait for the next post with the "MR SALTY NOOOOOOOOOO" tag.

    Who every knew that "I am the Walrus" was in fact a mating song for birthers.

  22. Dion starfire  •  Nov 26, 2013 @7:14 pm

    @Ken Was that "when will the courts protect your rights" section a quote from them, or what you tried to post to their site?

    If it's their quote, they're mostly right (most Popehat articles recently have been about citizens rights being overrun). Remove the lines limiting the problem to Obama (lines 2-3), and the promise that Americans will soon wake up and try to fix it, and they're absolutely right.

  23. Mike  •  Nov 26, 2013 @7:29 pm

    Dion: Read down the first letters…

  24. Lizard  •  Nov 26, 2013 @7:58 pm

    @Dion
    Rarely, fringe groups produce
    extremely accurate observations,
    as per the old adage about stopped clocks.
    Despite this, it is often
    obvious that even
    when outre views turn out to be correct,
    no sane person expects
    this as a regular, reliable occurrence.
    Hence, it's best to remain suspicious of
    even the sanest-seeming post on such sites,
    since it's far more probable that
    it's of dubious veracity.
    Doubtless, though, some will always take
    extreme positions in defiance of the facts.

  25. Lizard  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:03 pm

    @Jack: Generally, an inability to recognize satire of one's enemy's positions is due to living in too much of an echo chamber. If you read the enemy in their own words, on their own sites, you will develop an instinct of their cadence, codewords, and other forms of signaling that indicate someone who is insane, but actually believes what they right, vs. a satirist who uses the style and structure of his own side to present the ideas of the opposition.

    Unless one can show a *deliberate* attempt to defraud, such as the Hitler Diaries or the hoax Dan Rather fell for a couple of years back, any moral blame for failing to recognize satire falls on the reader, not the writer. If something is too good to be true, if it seems to say explicitly what you always KNEW Those Evil People Who Are Not Like Us are REALLY up to, then, it probably is a fake. Of course, Poe's law shows there's always exceptions — Ward Churchill comes to mind.

  26. Jacob H  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:10 pm

    @Lizard

    Rea down the side? What, you mean Rhea Perlman? You missed the "h"

  27. Lizard  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:16 pm

    @Jacob: Well, frak.

  28. Dion starfire  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:17 pm

    @Lizard the stopped clocks adage is kind of in tune with what I was thinking (though my phrasing was more along the lines of "even an idiot can stumble into the truth sometimes")

  29. Lizard  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:23 pm

    Perhaps someone with more money than I, and a desire to spend it to engage in some schadenfreudtastic fun, could send Mr. Farrah this shirt: http://www.cafepress.com/cp/moredetails.aspx?productNo=1189552427&pr=F&showbleed=False&colorNo=1&tab=1&Zoom=2&subFront=&subBack=&ptn=-1

  30. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:36 pm

    Jack:

    The website that ran this doesn't hint of its satiric bent unless you click on "Disclaimer" in the header.

    I disagree. I think it's sufficiently clear that it's satirical. I think that the conservative bloggers who fell for it are gullible, stupid, or partisanship-blinded.

    I may write on it tomorrow.

  31. barry  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:51 pm

    I am not a walrus. koo koo kachoo.

  32. Spacemanmatt  •  Nov 26, 2013 @8:58 pm

    I like the part where they commenters go on ad nauseum about the "judicial syndicate" and the corruption of the judge.

    She was appointed by George W. Bush.

  33. Jack Marshall  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:01 pm

    Ken–I'd stick with confirmation bias. But isn't it reasonable and responsible for a writer to take that into consideration? And isn't the danger of "satire laundering" especially a problem with web-based satire? Newsbusters has a hard right slant, for example, but it checks its sources: its substance is almost always trustworthy. So after the post, for whatever reason, fooled multiple web editors, the satirical roots were even more obscure.

    I came thiiiis close to falling for it, but was just dubious enough to double check. If you do choose to write about it, I'll be very interested.

  34. Lizard  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:09 pm

    But isn’t it reasonable and responsible for a writer to take that into consideration?

    Did Mr. Swift ever stop to even CONSIDER that some of the Irish might kill and butcher their babies after reading his so-called "satire"? No, he did not. His callous disregard for human life is obvious.

  35. Jack Marshall  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:16 pm

    Liz–that's an intentionally distorting example. Obviously there is a spectrum with obvious or presumably obvious satire on one end, and subtle, inept, or too close to credible attempts at satire on the other. Citing one end of the spectrum to dismiss concerns about the other isn't fair or persuasive. Only a fool would think Swift's proposal was anything but tongue in cheek. In the case of the professor, his actual, stated positions in the past were not, Ken's certitude notwithstanding, all THAT far removed from the posted, fictitious rant—not as extreme, but extreme nonetheless. I don't think it is necessarily proof of irrationality for one to conclude that a professor who would make multiple statements about the toxic effect of white males on the progress of civilization might one day round the bend and advocate their self-extermination.

  36. Allen  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:29 pm

    Ah, the comments though. I don't believe I've ever seen Vince Foster, FEMA Camps, Kenya, Freemasons, the UN, and the FCC, all rolled into a single primal scream.

    I think the one commenter might have meant the FEC, but you never know, those mind control rays are broadcast by someone.

  37. Jack Marshall  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:29 pm

    And this—"Unless one can show a *deliberate* attempt to defraud, such as the Hitler Diaries or the hoax Dan Rather fell for a couple of years back, any moral blame for failing to recognize satire falls on the reader, not the writer."—in a word, is crap. Satire, like other forms of humor, can be as incompetent as anything else. If you can't write satire sufficiently well to flag to normal readers that it IS satire, the blame doesn't fall on the reader.

  38. Jacob H  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:33 pm

    @Jack

    That raises an interesting question, namely:

    If the professor had in fact made those comments, wouldn't a reasonable person have assumed that he was simply using hyperbole as a form of "satire"? That is, taking an extreme, exaggerated, version of his position – like someone who wanted to criticize the malfeasance of the US government, and wrote a post calling for the complete dissolution of the government. It would be obvious (if they weren't named Clark (JOKE)) that this would be just a tongue-in-cheek way of calling attention to the problem.

  39. Roadkill on Information Superhighway  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:35 pm

    Streisand Effect ahoy! I had not heard about this 'till now. *giggle*

  40. Chris  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:43 pm

    I may write on it tomorrow.

    I'd be interested in reading about it, particularly regarding those who republish satire and label it as fact.

  41. Jack Marshall  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:45 pm

    Jacob—I don't know: do you presume that birthers are only kidding because their arguments are nuts? I was around academia a long time, and the professor's fake rant was not markedly more ridiculous than other nonsense I've heard college professors say in all seriousness….like in Women's Studies courses in the 70's. My mother was in the administration at Harvard in that period, and got complaints from a couple of male students when a professor said that the male gender could and possibly should be eliminated to the benefit of society. She may have been trying to be provocative, but she wasn't kidding.

  42. Jack Marshall  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:48 pm

    Chris—what's there to say? If someone believes it's fact, there's nothing wrong with treating it as fact. Which is why satire should be clearly recognizable as satire, not fact. When does satire become rumor-mongering? I think that's the interesting question.

  43. Xennady  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:05 pm

    I read a sliver of the story at the first link provided by Jack Marshall, and I think it is blindingly obvious to anyone who actually made it that far that it was a parody. That said, if you only read the headline you might take it seriously, especially if you happen to be familiar with all the insane and/or vile things leftists have been caught saying on tape, online, etc, etc.

    About Jerome Corsi- I'd like to note for the record that he used to be an occasional guest on the George Noory late night paranormal radio show, and maybe still is such. Since Noory regularly had guests on his show who claimed that space aliens are visiting Earth to bang human women to create hybrid babies, I always figured Corsi had issues with credibility even before his latest fiasco.

    So just in case anyone happens to think Corsi is within several hundred light years of mainstream conservative opinion- he ain't.

  44. Jacob H  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:07 pm

    @Jack

    Since you don't name the professor, I can only assume that she meant to eliminate the male gender through some sort of genetic engineering, or possibly sex-selective abortion. That is pretty different from advocating suicide! Since, as you say, you were in academia for a long time, do you recall ever hearing a professor advocate murder or suicide?

    I don't know: do you presume that birthers are only kidding because their arguments are nuts?

    Well, that depends – if you mean the birther commenters, then no, they are just nuts. Go read the comments on the WND story for plenty of examples. But it isn't really fair to compare anonymous commenters to tenured professors. As for the more high-profile birthers (are there any birthers who are professors in a relevant field (ie poli-sci, history, etc)? I don't know), they are a mixed bag. Some of them, like Orly Taitz, are in fact crazy, and others, politicians, probably don't genuinely believe it, and are just pandering to their base.

  45. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:08 pm

    See new post on the case raised by Jack.

  46. Lizard  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:04 pm

    When does satire become rumor-mongering? I think that's the interesting question.

    When it's intended to be. For example, most of WND's serious posts could almost be taken as satire, but they insist it's not, while spreading outright false information.

    It's hard to accept your earlier point that inept satire is hard to distinguish from truth; generally, the more spot-on the satire is, the more likely it is to be *good* satire. This is, of course, infuriating to those who fall for it, for it reveals their inability to comprehend their opponent's position, which in turn calls into question how much their own beliefs were arrived at by reason and research, as opposed to simply accepting what they were told and repeating it without thought. Rather than accept a failure and take action to correct it, they lash out in anger, usually with some variant on "But that's what they MIGHT have said!" or "We know that's what they REALLY think!".

    Badly written or inept satire is usually particularly easy to distinguish from factual reporting. This doesn't mean all obvious satire is bad — The Onion is usually quite blatant, though that doesn't stop people, such as elected officials, from believing stories like "Planned Parenthood Opens Eight Million Dollar Abortionplex". Apparently, there's nothing so ridiculous that someone isn't dumb enough to believe is possible. Good satire might be obvious or inobvious. Bad satire is always obvious. Humorless drones can't tell good from bad, and usually insist they're not humorless. "I've got a great sense of humor, but…" belongs in the same category as "I'm not a racist, but…". The "but" proves the words preceding it are a lie, and the words after it can be ignored.

  47. AlphaCentauri  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:31 pm

    @Lizard, good point. That explains why satire written by people who can't manage basic human respect for their target usually isn't very funny.

  48. Jacob H  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:39 pm

    @Lizard

    I remember a few times the Chinese state media fell for Onion stories, that was pretty funny.

    I also remember that a few scholars believe that Machiavelli's The Prince was intended as satire, that one (I guess) is in dispute to this day!

    I agree that the onus is on the reader to investigate whether something should be taken at face value. The more they are going to do with the information, the more they are obliged to investigate. If you are just going to tweet a link, you could be forgiven for not doing your due diligence, but if you are going to write articles, that elevates your responsibility to investigate. Not legally, but ethically, and for the good of your credibility

  49. Lagaya1  •  Nov 27, 2013 @12:24 am

    Well, just as predicted, that gay marriage thing has lead to walrus sex. Don't say we didn't tell you so!

  50. Arianne  •  Nov 27, 2013 @2:34 am

    As a DM, I'd be happy to tailor a game to a group entirely of wizards, for example. Instead, somebody threw some sort of magic jar into the fire, which caused a swirling vortex of fire that engulfed them. The Soldier: Who can plant bombs for the Destruction Objectives, refill their own ammo packs as well as their teammates.

  51. Anony Mouse  •  Nov 27, 2013 @3:03 am

    The court explained that only false facts can be defamatory under the First Amendment.

    "False facts"?

  52. LauraW  •  Nov 27, 2013 @3:47 am

    Shorthand for "false statements presented as if they were facts," I believe.

  53. Dan Weber  •  Nov 27, 2013 @6:33 am

    I have nothing useful to add. So I add this.

    http://ihasabucket.com/

    (Sadly, that walrus died in 2007, about six months after he became a meme. Fame is hard on a man, and a walrus.)

  54. Crusty the Ex-Clown  •  Nov 27, 2013 @6:38 am

    Dayum. Now I have to find a walrus costume for Mrs. Ex-Clown so we can explore the possibilities…

  55. Kilroy  •  Nov 27, 2013 @7:20 am

    After reading through some of the comments at WND, I'm glad they at least gather in one place so the crazy is somewhat contained.

  56. Grey Ghost  •  Nov 27, 2013 @7:22 am

    I was already chuckling at "odobenusophile," when I arrived at "clear and convincing evidence that he lacked the capacity to do so," at which point I totally lost it. Thank you.

    There are a few columnists whose work I enjoy that are cross-posted at WND (Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, if they haven't fled in odobenusophobic disgust), but for the most part, I love to see them get SLAPPed.

  57. Lizard  •  Nov 27, 2013 @7:42 am

    That explains why satire written by people who can’t manage basic human respect for their target usually isn’t very funny.

    Yeah. Having read a bunch of articles on the site in question, I'm dumping it in the "Not very funny" category. The author seems less focused by how the pomposity, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness of his targets pervert and distort any ideals of equality and tolerance than he is on those ideals themselves. IOW, he doesn't find humor so much in "In order to stop institutional racism, we must institutionalize racism!", which is seemingly the actual (and imbecilic) position of Prof. Ignatiev, than he does in "Stopping racism? That's a joke, right? You mean, people actually don't like racism? Hah!" (The fact his blogroll links to a 9/11 conspiracy site, apparently non-ironically[1], tells you all you need to know about his character and his judgment.)

    None of this remotely reduces his right to engage in his brand of satire, nor does it make it any less obviously satire, nor does it make those who cannot recognize it as such (and refuse to just say, "Yup, ya got me." and move on) any less foolish.

    Making errors of judgment and bad calls is part of being human. You laugh at your error, ruefully shake your head, and post corrections and apologies. The more you insist it was all someone else's fault and you did nothing wrong, the worse it looks for you.

    [1]I could be wrong, of course, and look foolish myself. But it seems to be a serious site (in the sense one can be serious about something so stupid), and it seems it's linked to with approval, not "Go here for more yuks!"

  58. Mark Draughn (Windypundit)  •  Nov 27, 2013 @8:09 am

    Walruses? Were the ponies getting too boring?

  59. Jack  •  Nov 27, 2013 @8:10 am

    @ Jack Marshall – the article you linked is so over the top satire it is ridiculous – it is just dripping with sarcasm. Did you even read the interview? A white male professor advocating for the destruction of the white race suggesting white males need to go first… The only thing that could have made it more obvious is if the article ended with the professor offing himself in front of the interviewer to kick things off.

    You need to re-read Ken's article a couple of more times until it sinks in, you Walrus Fucker.

  60. Lizard  •  Nov 27, 2013 @8:12 am

    A white male professor advocating for the destruction of the white race suggesting white males need to go first… The only thing that could have made it more obvious is if the article ended with the professor offing himself in front of the interviewer to kick things off.

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/aclu-defends-nazis-right-to-burn-down-aclu-headqua,1648/

  61. Matt  •  Nov 27, 2013 @8:31 am

    The Court made shorter work of the walrus issue, terming it "regrettable" and "more suited for state court, or possibly for some sort of televised court."

    …Did the DC Court just tell them to take it to Judge Judy?

    ETA: And in what is possibly the stupidest question of the day, I'm confused by Ken's wording here – did the walrus incident *actually* happen, or was it just part of the satire? (And did the court find that yes, it actually happened, so tough cookies claiming defamation on that?)

  62. David W  •  Nov 27, 2013 @9:13 am

    Matt,

    The only pieces of this post I would trust without independent research are the definite articles. I'm confident the walrus part at least is Ken's satire, but the line between truth and fiction may be even further over than that.

  63. Poultine  •  Nov 27, 2013 @9:23 am

    Normally I avoid the compulsion to be a grammar/spelling Nazi, but I'd just like to point out that "Equire " is probably a magazine about important pony-related issues (The Chincoteague: Pony or Diminutive Horse?), and, as such, is probably not what you meant. Or maybe exactly what you meant? This would put a very concerning spin on this story.

  64. I was Anonymous  •  Nov 27, 2013 @9:41 am

    Curses! just realized the fake tags didn't show up in my previous post.

    They were <humor> and <sarcasm>

  65. Jacob H  •  Nov 27, 2013 @11:32 am

    [deleted by author]

  66. b  •  Nov 27, 2013 @2:21 pm

    So the defense here is essentially that a reasonable person would not believe that WNDnuts would not respond to evidence that contradicts their agenda or beliefs, that they would not act with integrity or intellectual honesty, that they do not deal in facts? I'm linking this more and more.

  67. Lizard  •  Nov 27, 2013 @2:46 pm

    So the defense here is essentially that a reasonable person would not believe that WNDnuts would not respond to evidence that contradicts their agenda or beliefs, that they would not act with integrity or intellectual honesty, that they do not deal in facts?

    This is known in legalese as an example of "ursus sylvanis stercore". (And by "legalese", I mean "google translate plus my deep knowledge of Latin gleaned from Harry Potter books.)

    People called Romans, they go the house?

  68. Kelle  •  Nov 28, 2013 @5:54 am

    Bureau spokesman Paul Bresson said their use allows "us to learn critical information that otherwise would be difficult to obtain without introducing serious risk to law enforcement personnel. " To say the game looks impressive is an understatement considering how beautifully done their trailer is. The Soldier: Who can plant bombs for the Destruction Objectives, refill their own ammo packs as well as their teammates.

  69. Lizard  •  Nov 28, 2013 @7:32 am

    @Ken: I believe Kelle is a spambot. It looks like it picked up on some keywords used in others posts here, and used that as a seed to assemble random phrases from a database of fragments scraped from multiple sites into something that looks like a post, but isn't. Either the spambot is badly done, or your filters are good, as there's no embedded links, which is the point of such posts. (Though sometimes, they exist to test defenses or to pass a "once approved, does not need further approval" filter, such as I have on my own site.)

  70. Eric Holder  •  Nov 28, 2013 @11:16 pm

    Book sales?

    You mean their troglodytic minions can read, not to mention afford a book on real paper, with covers and everything?

    (And no, that's NOT a real word. Hater.)

  71. Brandon  •  Nov 28, 2013 @11:44 pm

    The fact that a federal judge is on record for this totally made my Thanksgiving Day:

    "Even if Farah and Corsi had shown that they were falsely accused of sexually assaulting a walrus — and they have not — they have not presented evidence that being associated with such conduct would harm their reputation amongst their audience of World Net Daily Readers. Indeed, Esquire offered evidence to the contrary."

  72. Ben  •  Nov 29, 2013 @1:40 pm

    I hate to be pedantic but there has been a glaring error in many of the above posts: 'walrus' is indicative of one individual animal, whereas the plural would be 'walri' (or is it 'walrum'?)

    Either way, please correct the grammar of your commenters.

    Thank you :)

  73. Rhonda Lea Kirk Fries  •  Nov 29, 2013 @3:25 pm

    I found a petition for you, Ben:

    http://www.petitiononline.com/WALRI/petition.html

    We, the undersigned, are concerned speakers of the English language who urge the publishers of Websters Third New International Dictionary to officially recognize Walri as the plural form of the Walrus. The current plural form of the word Walrus Walruses is a tired word and does not lend itself well to formal discussion of this majestic creature. We as speakers of the English language feel that a group of two or more Walrus should be officially recognized as Walri.

  74. barry  •  Nov 29, 2013 @4:29 pm

    The current plural form of the word Walrus Walruses is a tired word and does not lend itself well to formal discussion of this majestic creature

    And because they're not sheeps !

  75. Rhonda Lea Kirk Fries  •  Nov 29, 2013 @4:40 pm

    @Lizard

    +1

    Meet Kelle's mailinator account:

    http://mailinator.com/inbox.jsp?to=kelle

  76. Earle  •  Nov 29, 2013 @5:24 pm

    @Brandon, @Matt,

    I think Ken may have gotten confused in writing up this post and inadvertantly included part of the recent Limbaugh v. MSNBC decision. Since he kindly posted the D.C. Circuit's analysis of Joseph Farah et al v Esquire Magazine you can verify that the final part of the decision addresses Lanham Act claims, not allegations of interspecies misconduct. So I suspect Ken got confused writing this up.

    That, or y'all have been punked.

  77. anonymous  •  Nov 29, 2013 @9:14 pm

    Hush. We're having too much fun to let reality intrude.

  78. A Walrus  •  Nov 30, 2013 @4:37 pm

    As a walrus, I take exception to the title of this piece – we pinnipeds are strong supporters of the First Amendment, and I object to being lumped in with Stupid People and Delusional Stupid People. I point out that no walruses engaged in any of the censorious efforts detailed, and we walruses want nothing to do with Mssrs. Farah & Corsi, sexually or otherwise.

  79. Lizard  •  Nov 30, 2013 @6:30 pm

    Simply as a point of interest regarding just how ridiculous the "Birthers" are…. http://fellowshipoftheminds.com/2013/11/29/where-are-obamas-daughters-baby-pics-and-birth-records/ . Warning: Not responsible for any drop in IQ that might come from reading this. Also not responsible for any sudden urge to hack into NORAD and simply launch everything we've got, scouring the Earth clean and giving some other, more deserving, species a chance.

  80. Basil. Forthrightly  •  Nov 30, 2013 @11:54 pm

    Wow. Some of the comments in the fellowship link Lizard posted truly hurt my brain.

    The tl;dr: Barry is a gay, Muslim, socialist Kenyan with great gaps in his records who is posing as Sasha and Malia's father.

    No doubt with the complicity of the media.

    To destroy our American Way of Life and sap our Purity of Essence.

  81. Matthew Cline  •  Dec 1, 2013 @12:24 am

    1) Why would they expect the vital records of the children of the President to be available?

    2) If Sasha and Malia weren't his biological children because he'd never had sex with Michelle, then she would have simply lied about the father to the birth doctor, meaning the birth certificates would reveal nothing.

  82. midnightrambler956  •  Dec 1, 2013 @8:42 pm

    Matthew Cline: No no, it's not just that they never had sex, but that they couldn't be their children because Michelle was born a man. Just look at those biceps and it's obvious. Also, that crazy woman who was killed after trying to run over a bunch of capitol cops and ram the White House? Her child was actually Obama's and he had her murdered, right in front of the WH, to keep her quiet.

    Back OT, it's pretty funny that the commenters over at WND are denouncing the "communist judges" for this decision, when one of them (Janice Rogers Brown) is a Bush II appointee who was filibustered by Democrats for two years after 'liberal organizations including the NAACP, the Feminist Majority Foundation, People For the American Way, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Organization for Women called her views "extreme right-wing."'

  83. The Wanderer  •  Dec 4, 2013 @4:54 pm

    The first paragraph of this post refers to the birthers' "bitter defeat".

    The second paragraph refers to their "salty defeat" (presumably a reference to tears at the news).

    As I read through the rest of the article and through the comment thread, I was more than halfway expecting to encounter mentions of the defeat as as "sweet", "sour", and possibly even "umami". (Or at the very least "savory".)

  84. Lashay  •  Dec 8, 2013 @8:59 am

    Yes! Finally someone writes about firminite complaints.

  85. Montana  •  Dec 10, 2013 @11:40 am

    The Birthers/ Teabaggers have no evidence that would stand up in a court of law in the United States. To all the Birthers in internet land, its upon you to prove to all of us (the majority) that what you are saying is true. Take it to court you bunch of cowards!

    Let me be clear none of these Birther/ Teabaggers dullards have taken there “Birther Documents of facts, more like lies” and none have won a case in the “U.S. Courts”, maybe in their simple minds (if they have any) but not in our “U.S. Courts”, so unless Birthers/ Teabaggers, whatever you want to be called, win a court case, we will continue to see as dullards, liars or racist or maybe all three. Deal with the real truth baby!

    To all the Teabaggers / Birthers/ Chicken Littles that keep saying that the sky is falling, and the Unites States will fail, never count against the United States of America, we are coming back and you and your losers are wrong!

  86. Hye  •  Dec 19, 2013 @12:06 pm

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  88. Lin  •  Jan 1, 2014 @12:52 am

    Finally, indicate through mutual friends that you might just get whisked away by another suitor if your ex does not act quickly to claim you back. It is the equivalent of hitting the Reply All in an email. Suppose we have a list of birth dates in Excel and we want to create a function that will calculate each person's age (in years) as of today's date.