Saturday, November 17, 2007

Suspected right-wing parody site has even pros buying in

Jason Rhyne
November 6, 2007

In August, the blog recommended that Lindsay Lohan should be shipped to Guantanamo "for public drunkenness, for obscenity, for failing to strap her chest down..."

Later, they ran an eye-grabbing headline that "Anime Encourages Murder."

And then, last month, a brutal condemnation of the game Donkey Kong, "in which a monkey kidnaps a young girl to satisfy his bestial desires."

Are these people serious?

Drawing on a bone-dry sense of humor and a committed crew of regular contributors, an apparent conservative parody blog is routinely duping even the savviest political observers into believing that its satirical take on fringe conservative politics is legit. Or not.

There's a good reason for the confusion:

Daily entries found at Blogs4Brownback, which was purportedly founded in praise of the now-defunct presidential campaign of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) -- and still soldiers on as a general clearing house for bombastic conservative political pronouncements -- are often subtle enough to pass as earnest commentary, but frequently venture just far enough over-the-top to suggest that a skillful spoof may be afoot.

But if the site really is satire, many aren't yet wise to the joke. The latest example came last month:

When MSNBC's Keith Olbermann weighed in on the revelation that Harry Potter author JK Rowling considered her character, Dumbledore the wizard, to be gay, the host singled-out a Blogs4Brownback post on air.

"Dumbledore is a gay homosexual who doesn't deserve to live on G-d's green earth," a fired-up B4B contributor had written. "Reminder: he's fictional," Olbermann chided, going on to read choice quotes on the subject plucked from other conservative sites. A producer for Olbermann's program did not respond to a request for comment.

Left-leaning ThinkProgress, the blog of the Center for American Progress, also bought in, citing the same Dumbledore quote alongside reactions from legitimately righty sites like Redstate and the media watchdog group Newsbusters.

"It was easily the most hyperbolic quote we found...but the general sentiment seemed in line with a lot of other conservative blogs," Think's Matt Corley told RAW STORY. "It just seems like they set out to do satire that's subtle enough to get taken seriously."

Corley said that conservatives were no better at sniffing out the prank. "They're the ones I imagine should have their radars up for something like this," he said, and pointed to Patrick Ruffini, a former online strategist for the Republican National Committee, as a fellow victim.

But Ruffini, whose website maintains a collection of Blogs4Brownback entries in a section called "2008 Wire," told RAW STORY by email that the material was among other political headlines automatically culled from around the web by computer. And he bristles at the accusation he may have been duped:

"I remember visiting Blogs4Brownback months ago and thinking it was a parody," said Ruffini. "When your view of social conservatives is limited to stick-figure stereotypes or looking down at them from a plane window at 35,000 feet, I can easily see how D.C. elitists like those at the Center for American Progress would be fooled."

And there have been no shortage of marks. In a May B4B entry denouncing the evils of Heliocentrism -- the scientific certainty that the Earth revolves around the Sun -- a poster named Sisyphus had laid out a Bible-based case for a fixed Earth:

"It seems clear that it may occasionally be convenient to assume that the calculations of Copernicus and Kepler were mathematically sound," Sisyphus wrote. "However, for both moral and theological reasons, we should always bear in mind that the Earth does not move. If it moved, we would feel it moving."

The conservative Colarado site immediately denounced the posting, which it apparently mistook as officially endorsed by the Brownback campaign.

"If we didn't know better," their blog entry read, "we would think Brownback and his campaign staff were some sort of twisted parody of how extreme left-wingers view conservatives."

'It's sublime. Colbert-level.'

In July, Atlantic Monthly's Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of the New Republic, despairingly noted the B4B reaction to President Bush's move to commute the prison sentence of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

"President Bush has made the correct decision," said the blog at the time. "It makes me so proud to be an American. Justice prevails in the face of an overzealous prosecutor who wanted to punish Lewis Libby simply for being a Republican."

Sullivan event went so far as to nominate the post for his Malkin Award, jokingly named after blogger Michelle Malkin, which he bestows yearly "for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric."

"Andrew Sullivan likes us so much that he nominated B4B for the coveted Malkin Award," the site responded glowingly. "I wonder who else is in the running. I hope we win! I'd like to thank the academy"

"Yes, they suckered me at first," Sullivan told RAW STORY by email, adding that his readers were quicker to spot the mischief. But he has a good excuse: B4B's satirical facility, he says, is just that impressive.

"It's sublime," said Sullivan. "Colbert-level."

Although the blog was outed days later by the Denver Post as a likely parody, the news has done little to keep it from being continually accepted at face value even by ostensibly non-political sources.

Two weeks ago, B4B managed to find its way in to big-time video game blog Kotaku after chiming in with a harangue about the Nintendo DS gaming system.

"Introduced in 2004, the Nintendo DS (for Dual Screen or Devil Screen), this game machine has sold some 700 million or so units. That's an epidemic," complained B4B. "It's undeniable that it has been a 'success' for its Japanese manufacturer, Nintendo (makers of Donkey Kong aka Monkey Donkey, a game in which a monkey kidnaps a young girl to satisfy his bestial desires). It's also been a tremendous success for pedophiles everywhere."

Amused, the gaming blog pegged the post as "extremely entertaining propaganda speech."

"With supporters like these it is no wonder than Sam Brownback is pulling out of the running for Republican presidential candidate," said Kotaku. "Either there are too many sensible people who would never support him in a million years just to avoid association with these idiots, or the man realized that being a presidential candidate representing people like this would only encourage them."

'I'm not a spoof'

As for the pranksters themselves, if indeed that's what they are, those associated with Blogs4Brownback have demonstrated an unblinking refusal to admit to any shenanigans. The site's contributors frequently slam remarks in the B4B comments section proposing that the whole affair could be a parody, and maintain an aggressive campaign to quash similar suggestions elsewhere around the web.

But maybe B4B doth protest too much.

Following the Denver Post expose, B4B's Sisyphus fired off a "personal retort" to the paper.

"I'm not a spoof. That's the standard leftist talking point -- anyone who disagrees with them must be doing so in bad faith," Sisyphus wrote. "The liberal religion brooks no heresy. Either one is with them, or one is only pretending to oppose them."

Three days later, fellow poster Psycheout followed up on the same subject, calling the Post article, by staff writer Karen E. Crummy, a "shameless fact-free hit piece."

"There's nothing I want more than for Sam Brownback to get the GOP nomination," said Psycheout, asserting his authenticity. "That's why I do political research and post blog entries here, Karen E. Dummy."

And other blogs likely affiliated with Blogs4Brownback, including the similarly named Conservatives4Brownback and the now-rechristened Baptists for Brownback, add to the smoke and mirrors effect; authors from the intertwining Brownback network comment on each other's blogs, and some separately maintain their own personal blogs.

There are no clear indications as to what kind of agenda, beyond leg-pulling satisfaction, lies at the heart of B4B's motivations. In the past, liberal parody bloggers like Jesus' General and others have poked fun at right-wing opponents -- particularly religious conservatives -- by adopting fanciful, outsize versions of conservative rhetoric themselves. But in the General's case at least, the satire isn't hard to uncover: he fesses up in a disclaimer right on his website.

No such luck with B4B. When RAW STORY emailed them for comment about the parody speculation, "Sam Brown," the blog's moderator, said it was no joke -- their views were just jarringly extreme.

"It seems these days that anything that falls outside of a certain range of 'acceptable' opinion is labeled parody or 'spoof,'" he said. "I think it's a defense mechanism. For some people it's far easier to simply dismiss that which falls outside of safe liberal dogma rather than to think outside the box."

And often, he suggested, readers aren't sure whether to hail them or hate them:

"[C]ongratulations, this is brilliant satire and I love it but if it's not I really hate it and you should just die," Brown said, channeling the comments he says he's received.

Outside of an outright confession by a B4B conspirator, there's little in the way of smoking-gun evidence that can be used to prove something like satire has been committed. But maybe, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously suggested of pornography, you just know it when you see it:

Like on October 3, when the blog took on the subject of so-called "furries," anthropomorphic animals -- think Mickey Mouse -- who are reportedly an object of affection among fetishists.

"Fortunately President Bush has recognized the danger of furries and has spoken out against them," said B4B, citing as evidence a quote from the White House website's summation of the 2006 State of the Union address, during which the president called on Congress to prohibit the creation of "human-animal hybrids." Then, in a rare bout of patently obvious humor, the blog tips its a hand a bit:

"'And furries are completely sick and wrong,'President Bush later added, off the record," reports B4B. "We couldn't agree more. Well said, Mr. President. We salute you."

And that's about as much of a wink as B4B will offer. Ever, perhaps.

"To our critics I say this: B4B is real," Sam Brown told RAW STORY. "We're here. Deal with it. And please try to keep your head from exploding. B4B is not responsible for any mental anguish you may suffer when exposed to the truth."

The following video is from MSNBC's Countdown and MSNBC's Dan Abrams Live, broadcast on October 23, 2007. (David Edwards)

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