Sunday, February 12, 2012

These Guys Really Will Fall For Anything (Which Explains Newt Gingrich)

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I've often said in these pages that the hardest part of writing satire is staying ahead of reality.
I write about something so mind-bogglingly off the wall that no one with more than three viable brain cells could possibly believe it's serious, only to find that something 10 times weirder actually happened the day I turned in the column.
Apparently, some people have the opposite problem: They're unable to distinguish satire from reality. People like Republican Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana, for example.
You may remember Rep. Fleming as the poor little rich boy who appeared on MSNBC this past September and complained that by the time he paid taxes, paid all his bills, and "fed his family," he had "maybe, $400,000 left over." Clearly, someone who can say something like that with a straight face doesn't have much of a sense of irony, or reality, for that matter.
So it is perhaps not surprising that Rep. Fleming fell for a joke posting on the well-known satirical website "The Onion." The fake story, which ran several months ago, was headlined "Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex" and described "a sprawling abortion facility that will allow the organization to terminate unborn lives with an efficiency never before thought possible."
It gets more and more outrageous from there, with descriptions of an on-premises  "three-story nightclub and a 10-screen multiplex theater", and a Planned Parenthood spokesman "quoted" as saying: "Although we've traditionally dedicated 97 percent of our resources to other important services such as contraception distribution, cancer screening, and STD testing, this new complex allows us to devote our full attention to what has always been our true passion: abortion."
Now, anyone who would give this a moment's thought would come to the conclusion that it was a joke, a sendup of the paranoid fantasies that mark the right-wing attitude toward Planned Parenthood, one of the many, many organizations they love to hate.
But when you're so addicted to outrage that you're willing to believe anything that gets your dander up, there's no such thing as a moment's thought, and no story too over-the-top for you to fall for like a credulous rube on his first day in the city.

Recently there's been a big brouhaha over the decision by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to withdraw funds for breast cancer testing from Planned Parenthood, then reinstating them after a public outcry. This sort of thing is just catnip to a right-wing demagogue like Fleming, so he apparently thought it would be a good idea to jump on the bandwagon.
He decided to weigh in against Planned Parenthood by posting the "Abortionplex" story on his Facebook page, with the snippy comment: "More on Planned Parenthood, abortion by the wholesale [sic]."

Fleming's inability to comprehend a joke was immediately picked up by the website "Literally Unbelievable: Stories from The Onion as interpreted by Facebook." Much merriment ensued in the comments, with "how did someone as dumb as you get elected?" being a recurring theme. Pretty soon the story had gone national.
The whole fiasco reminds me of the great Harry Potter scare of the early 21st century, when another group of paranoids seized on an Onion article titled "Harry Potter Books Spark Rise in Satanism Among Children" to "prove" that the Potter books were evil.

An article in the far-right blog WorldNet daily even quoted "High Priest Egan of the Church of Satan in Salem, MA," saying, "Harry is a godsend to our organization. We've had more applicants than we can handle, and of course most of them are virgins, which is just gravy."
"High Priest Egan," of course, was a complete fabrication, as was the story. You'd think the use of the word "godsend" would be a tip-off, as would the absurdity of a Satanist church having an application process. But hey, wingnuts believe more absurd things before breakfast than most people can even think of in the average day, and they're not happy unless they've got something to be unhappy about, so they're easily punk'd, as the kids say these days.
At least I think they say that. I read it online somewhere.

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