News & Politics

GOP Politicians Have Repeatedly Been Bamboozled by Satire. Are We One Onion Article Away From Total Chaos?

Senator John Cornyn is the latest lawmaker to present humor as fact.

John Cornyn / CSPAN

A Senate confirmation hearing for Kristen Clarke—President Biden’s pick to head the Department of Justice’s civil rights division—included an interrogation from Republican Senator John Cornyn. During Clarke’s questioning, the Texas senator asked whether she really believed “African Americans were genetically superior to caucasians.” The “belief” he was questioning: a satirical op-ed Clarke had written for a college newspaper while she was at Harvard. Clarke’s piece aimed to criticize The Bell Curve Theory, which argues that racial genetic differences cause lower IQ scores in Black individuals. Clarke told Cornyn that her column was intended to “hold up a mirror – put one racist theory alongside another, to challenge people as to why we were unwilling to wholly reject the racist theory that defined the Bell Curve book.”

It’s not the first time GOP members have failed to pick up on satire. Some other examples:

Representative Pat Fallon claimed that the Southern Poverty Law Center had listed two veterans organizations as hate groups.

During SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks’s testimony last month at a House Armed Forces Committee meeting, the Texas congressman claimed that her organization had categorized the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars as hate groups. A confused Brooks pointed out that the allegation had been fabricated by the Duffel Blog, a satirical site that focuses on the US Military.

Senator Mitch McConnell contacted the Pentagon about Guantanamo Bay prisoners getting GI benefits

When a constituent sent McConnell a 2012 Duffel Blog piece claiming Guantanamo Bay prisoners had been getting Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits, McConnell sent a concerned email to Pentagon Congressional Liaison Elizabeth King asking for her “review and response to [his] constituent’s concerns.”

Donald Trump thought Twitter was shutting down to protect Joe Biden.

Last year, President Trump retweeted a story from satirical site the Babylon Bee. The piece claimed that Twitter would shut down its entire network to slow the spread of negative Biden news. “Wow, this has never been done in history,” Trump tweeted. “This includes his really bad interview last night. Why is Twitter doing this. Bringing more attention to Sleepy Joe & Big T”

Representative John Fleming feared the creation of an “abortionplex”

Sharing an Onion article with the headline “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex” on his Facebook page in 2012, Fleming simply wrote “More on Planned Parenthood, abortion by the wholesale.”  The former Louisiana congressman later deleted the post.

Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.