MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was red-faced Tuesday after it emerged she and her producers had fallen for a satirical article jokingly calling for a US invasion of Egypt led by Sarah Palin.
In her broadcast Monday night, Maddow reported on an article at ChristWire.org, a satirical site that has fooled reporters before.
The article, titled “As Egypt Descends in Chaos, Should Sarah Palin Support a US-Led Invasion?,” argued that “the escalating crisis in Egypt could become a defining moment for Sarah Palin.”
The piece argued: “Governor Palin needs to speak out publicly and forcibly for an American-led invasion to protect our interests in North Africa. … The Governor could become the center of [Egyptians'] rallying cries. Upon her direction, other Western nations are sure to join us.”
“To be clear, this is what these folks are asking Sarah Palin to do, this is not Palin’s own idea,” Maddow told her audience Monday night.
As bloggers raced to reveal Maddow’s blunder, the MSNBC anchor quickly acknowledged the mistake on her Twitter feed.
“The bad news about a free and open Internet? Sometimes you get had by brilliant satirists. Christwire: 1 TRMS: 0,” Maddow tweeted.
Christwire features a roster of satirical articles, some of which are more obviously phony than others. One article suggests that the Xbox Kinect may be a “terrorist training tool,” while another asks, “Why is pet turtle masturbation one of the Internet’s hottest new trends?”
Many commenters argued that Maddow’s mistake — though avoidable had producers simply done a Google search — was understandable because of the professional look of Christwire.
“If … you didn’t run a nationally viewed cable news show you’d be forgiven for mistaking this post as a straight up opinion piece from any number of right wing sites,” Glynnis MacNicol wrote at BusinessInsider.
Colby Hall at Mediaite suggests the problem may be deeper: American politics have become so absurd that it’s becoming more and more difficult to tell satire from reality, Hall suggested.
The saddest part of the original report is not necessarily that Maddow cited a joke website. Its that the joking and over-the-top rhetoric fit perfectly alongside the other hyperbolic examples provided, all of which were true! Yes Maddow’s producers erred here in not first fact checking (something with which we have taken issue before) but in this instance, the mistake seemed relatively small since it was just one overblown comment among many.
As John Hudson noted at the Atlantic, this isn’t the first time a major news organization has fallen for a ChristWire satire. Last summer, NBC News fell for a report that the Christian right was organizing a boycott of actor Bill Murray.
The Huffington Post reported a few months later on an article advising wives on how to tell if their husbands are secretly gay. “Homosexuality can pop up any time,” the article declared, adding that “over 2 million couples” are struggling with homosexuality in their marriages.
For its part, Christwire responded to the controversy over Maddow’s segment on Tuesday, but largely failed to acknowledge that the issue had to do with the site being satirical. In an act of presumably satirical selective reporting, the author stated that Maddow had referred to his article as being “spectacular.” Maddow had, in fact, described a producer’s discovery of the article as being a “spectacular” find.
The following video, which has been removed from MSNBC’s website, was posted to YouTube by user TysonBowersIII.