Great moments in journalism: USA Today fact-checks satire site, declares it “satirical”



Too goofy to let pass, in part because it encapsulates the sanctimony and condescension that permeates much of the news media’s fact-checking efforts. Last week, conservative satire site The Babylon Bee ran an article claiming that the Ninth Circuit had overturned the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, declaring it “unconstitutional.” Anyone with a passing familiarity with conservative thought would have instantly recognized the targets of this skewering — judicial activism in general and the Ninth Circuit in particular:

Kim McLane Wardlaw, the judge who issued the ruling, said in a statement: “Justice Ginsburg’s death was an affront to the constitution as well as our God-given right to abort as many babies as possible and sell their body parts for research. Death, at its core, is a construct designed to subvert the rule of law by taking pro-choice liberal judges away from us too soon. We cannot allow Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death to stand. By law, she will now be considered to be still alive.”

Trump slammed the ruling as “idiotic” and called the court judges “a bunch of morons.” Republicans pounced on this ruling like tigers that pounce on their prey before ruthlessly tearing it to pieces with their razor-sharp claws. “This is a terrible ruling because we’re racist and we hate women,” said a bunch of Republicans, according to anonymous sources.

Judge Wardlaw followed up on her ruling, saying: “We hereby rule any attempt by President Trump to appoint a replacement to be unconstitutional. We will block any attempt until we figure out a way to resurrect her or maybe clone her and restore her to her already ‘legally alive’ state. We’re still figuring that part out.”

Amusing stuff, especially to conservatives, but clearly a joke. The fact of the joke should be obvious to non-conservatives as well, even if they don’t find it humorous. Not only does the site proclaim explicitly that they publish satire, not news, the headlines on the site at any one time are clearly fronting humor. For instance, here are a few from today:

  • CNN Reports Amy Coney Barrett Attended Bizarre Ceremony Where She Ate Flesh, Drank Blood of Jewish Guy
  • “What Is Thy Bidding, My Master?” Asks Amy Coney Barrett to Cloaked, Holographic Pope
  • Thousands Of California Inmates Experience Sudden-Onset Gender Dysphoria After Learning They Can Get Transferred To Women’s Prison
  • Winning Debate Strategy: Trump Announces He Will Simply Let Joe Biden Talk For The Full 90 Minutes

Would that the last one were true, but alas. Trump won’t keep his mouth shut for ninety seconds, let alone ninety minutes.

Whether or not a reader finds this humorous, any reader with two brain cells operating simultaneously would recognize it as satire, even if they didn’t know that was the Babylon Bee’s genre. However, USA Today’s fact checkers decided to weigh in on the claim anyway, even though they know it’s satirical:

The claim: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The headline of an article published by satire website The Babylon Bee is a nod to the contentious history between the Trump administration and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The Babylon Bee is “the world’s best satire site,” according to its website.

Readers then get presented with a number of sub-topics, such as “Who is Judge Kim Wardlaw?” She’s a real judge on the Ninth Circuit, but …

There is no record of any Wardlaw opinion on Ginsburg’s death on the website for the 9th Circuit, but she participated in a panel discussion Friday about Ginsburg’s life produced by the UCLA School of Law. There was no mention of “reviving” Ginsburg during the discussion.

No kidding? The Babylon Bee must be crushed to discover that. After having to read through a number of other such nonsensical and irrelevant factoids (not to mention links to other fact-checks, such as “No guarantee Obama would’ve replaced Ginsburg with a progressive justice“), we get to the conclusion:

Our rating: Satire

We rate this claim SATIRE, based on our research. A satirical article about the 9th Circuit “overturning” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death has no basis in fact. It is true that the 9th Circuit has ruled against many Trump-era policies.

Wow! After spending several hundred words on its “research,” USA Today helpfully informs us that a satire website does indeed publish satire. How helpful this will be to thousands of readers who might have labored under the false impression that a satire website might be serious about a court overturning an actual death.

It does, however, accomplish one beneficial achievement. It proves that USA Today thinks their readers are idiots, just as other outlets who attempt to fact-check the Babylon Bee and other explicitly and intentionally satirical websites and publications.

By the way, there is room to fact-check the basis of the Right’s specific hostility to the Ninth Circuit. Too bad USA Today didn’t choose its target more carefully.





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