Dick Polman: Only fools would believe Obama visited a mosque on July Fourth
It’s always fun to punk the trolls.
Our saga begins July 2, when a satirical website, National Report, posted this deadpan dispatch: “White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced today that President Obama will be visiting a Washington, D.C., area Mosque on the morning of July 4 as a good will gesture to Muslim Americans. … According to Earnst, following his visit to the Mosque, the president will host the traditional White House July Fourth cookout. Several influential Muslim leaders have been invited. …”
In this era of instant info, a citizen need only spend roughly 10 seconds on the keyboard in order to verify the truth of an ostensible story. But as we know, the trolls who infest comment boards have stored up so much bile that it typically clogs their brains. Why bother checking whether something is true when it’s so much easier to just spew?
Case in point, the mosque “story.” As the publisher of National Report remarked in an interview last year, “We have been targeting tea party types recently, (because) they are the most gullible and are willing to spread misinformation across the Internet with little/no research—they are to blame for their own stupidity.”
Within minutes of posting the fake story, the site’s comment board predictably lit up. For instance: “Are you f------ kidding me!!!!!! On the 4th!!!!” and “It is time for our Muslim President to be taken out of ofc. He will be the down throw of the US.”
Anyway, not long after the satirical story went up, it came to the attention of Victoria Jackson. Ah yes, Victoria. Many years ago, she had some very funny moments on “Saturday Night Live”—and today, as a notorious right-wing naif, she still manages to make me laugh.
Jackson dutifully re-posted the satirical story—without bothering to verify it, and sure enough, the clueless trolls bought it. For instance (and I’ve retained the original grammar): “president Pinocchio is a moslem PERIOD. his actions prove he hates America. Time to wake up America” and “This story should surprise no one. Obama is a MUSLIM”
Then Jackson doubled down by sounding the alarm on Twitter—“Obama Visits Mosque on 4th of July”—and her followers went nuts. For instance: “Of course. He has to drop in on his terrorist ‘bros’ and say hello.” And this: “He just flaunts it now. He’s a Muslim thru & thru & our tax $s are going to them.”
Eventually, some ambassadors from the land of factual reality showed up on Jackson’s comment board, to inform the ranters that the original story was satire. One sane soul told a troll: “This is a fake story. You idiots will believe anything.” To which the troll responded: “Doesn’t matter.”
Doesn’t matter. That says it all.
But the best was yet to come. In the early hours of July 3, the Tea Party Command Center website re-posted the original story—with a disclaimer headline that specifically labeled it as a satire—and yet, the trolls still thought it was true. Either they didn’t read the headline, or they’re unfamiliar with the word satire, or they have no sense of humor. Which is why they posted stuff like this:
“Where else would the president of the United States of America be on America’s Independence Day? At a Muslim Mosque, of course!!! Mainstream media, how are you going to defend this?” And this: “Could the Rat Bastard be any more insulting or disrespectful to the people of America?” And this: “Muslims r invited, but no real Americans that would put these jihad, including Hussein Obama, in the u know what.”
There’s something a tad depressing about our vast idiocracy. Too many people are all too willing to swallow and recirculate misinformation, to believe whatever reconfirms their biases and fears. As Melissa Ethridge sings, “Fear is melting into hate.” And that’s dangerous for America.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.