Republican Congressman Forgets The Onion Is Fake News

Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana had some egg on his face this morning:

Meet John Fleming, the unfortunate Republican U.S. Representative from Louisiana who made that wonderful and all-too-common mistake of thinking that an Onion article was real and telling his Facebook followers to read it. Fleming’s Facebook status was posted by Literally Unbelievable, a Tumblr that collects images of Facebookers who think Onion satires are the real deal and post them on their walls.

What’s doubly sad about this posting (obviously deleted now) is that The Onion article shared, “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex,” is from May 2011 and is something of a viral classic, even inspiring some users of Yelp to “review” the facility described. So not only did Rep. Fleming (who calls abortion a “pernicious evil”) or at least one of his staffers believe Kansas now has an abortion clinic with “coffee shops, bars, dozens of restaurants and retail outlets, a three-story nightclub, and a 10-screen multiplex theater,” but it’s not even recent fake news. (Though it’s a fake news item that’s gotten other people who weren’t U.S. representatives.)

Even if this was posted by a staffer rather than Fleming himself, one has to wonder how there could be anyone on the planet who doesn’t realize that The Onion is fake news.

Screenshot via The Atlantic

FILED UNDER: Congress, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    Even if you don’t know about The Onion, the quoted sum of $8 billion should make you stop and consider that something is really wrong. One World Trade Center is going to cost about half of that…

  2. Kylopod says:

    What incidents like this reveal, above all, is the sucker’s complete and total detachment from reality. For example, when some websites started treating the Onion piece “Harry Potter sparks rise in Satanism among children” as a real news story, just the fact that those people thought the piece’s claim was plausible enough to be true spoke volumes about their understanding of the world. Similarly, to think it’s even plausible that PP would open an “abortionplex” suggests how deeply mired this Congressman is in the propaganda.

  3. de stijl says:

    The perniciousness of confirmation bias is hard to over-state. When someone falls for one these big ones (especially from The Onion), obviously you have to point and laugh.

    But smaller examples happen all the time because our brains make us blind to them. It’s really easy for us to glom onto stories that fit out worldview and reject those that don’t.

  4. Jake says:

    This one is obviously over the top, but I’ve seen Onion headlines that are plausible enough to make me say “Wait, that’s gotta be fake, right?” and go click and check.

  5. Kylopod says:

    >But smaller examples happen all the time because our brains make us blind to them.

    Sure. I’ve fallen for satires myself. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m mocking anyone who has ever confused a parody with a real news story. But an example like this is an illustration of how deeply the propaganda against Planned Parenthood has seeped into the brains of many conservatives.

    It reminds me of some of the outlandish statements I’ve heard from some conservatives I know. For example, in late 2008 I heard a rumor from them that Obama would appoint Jesse Jackson as his secretary of state. Anyone who thought that rumor was remotely plausible was stunningly lacking in a basic understanding of the political situation. It’s no wonder people like that fall for parodies that aren’t even trying to be subtle.

    I don’t mean to imply this kind of thing is found only on the right, of course. In my experience there are still many liberals who think Sarah Palin said “I can see Russia from my house,” unaware the line came from an SNL skit parodying her. (It was based on something she did say–“You can see Russia from land here in Alaska”–that was actually an accurate statement, albeit a lame one as a response to a question about her foreign policy credentials.) As shockingly ignorant as Palin showed herself to be on the campaign trail, and as bizarre as the elevation of her by McCain was, it simply wasn’t plausible that she ever would have said something like that in earnest, and people who thought it was were making her into more of a caricature than she actually was. We need to beware of that tendency, no matter what our political orientation and no matter how crazy the other side may seem at times.

  6. Anonne says:

    God bless screenshots.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I’d be more contemptuous but I just tried to click on the “View all 8 comments” link so I think I’d better just shut up.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    Good question from the top commenter: How exactly did you get elected? It’s because the electorate is just as moronic as he is.

  9. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’d be more contemptuous but I just tried to click on the “View all 8 comments” link

    The perniciousness of confusing a screen shot of a link with a real link is hard to over-state.

  10. Ernieyeball says:

    We are all saps at one time or another. I remember when the big kid down the block told me there was no Santa Claus. I might have been in 1st grade.
    When I went home and asked my Mom and Dad about it with that they fessed up to the deception and told me it was time to grow up.
    Of course I still believed in the Easter Bunny.
    Evidently my parents wanted to humor themselves. They played out that charade for a few more years.

  11. sam says:

    It ain’t called the Stupid Party for nothing.

  12. sam says:
  13. Vast Variety says:

    The Iowa Republican web site once tried linking to a site called the Black & Scarlet in an attempt to put down the Dean of Grinnell College. The funny part of this is that the B&S is a fake news site ran by the students of Grinnell College and just like the onion. The College’s real news site is called the Scarlet and Black.

  14. Kylopod says:

    @sam: Good catch. I vaguely remember that incident, but I didn’t realize it was the same guy.

  15. sam says:

    @de stijl:

    It’s really easy for us to glom onto stories that fit out worldview and reject those that don’t.

    True enough. But what are we to say of someone who reads the Onion story and thinks it’s true? Who reads this, and thinks it’s true?

    The 900,000-square-foot facility has more than 2,000 rooms dedicated to the abortion procedure. The abundance of surgical space, Richards said, will ensure that women visiting the facility can be quickly fitted into stirrups without pausing to second-guess their decision or consider alternatives such as adoption. Hundreds of on-site counselors are also available to meet with clients free of charge and go over the many ways that carrying a child to term will burden them and very likely ruin their lives.

    The remaining space is dedicated to amenities such as coffee shops, bars, dozens of restaurants and retail outlets, a three-story nightclub, and a 10-screen multiplex theater—features intended not only to help clients relax, but to foster a sense of community and make abortion more of a social event.

    What kind of “worldview” would accept that as true? Would read that and not say, “Whuh?”

  16. Kylopod says:

    @sam: To be fair, I suspect Fleming didn’t read the whole article and was simply reacting to the headline.

  17. de stijl says:

    @sam:

    Would read that and not say, “Whuh?”

    An extraordinarily stupid person. In no way was I trying to excuse or wave away Fleming’s stupidity. I’m sorry I gave that impression.

    What kind of “worldview” would accept that as true?

    He did, obviously. Obsessional people and conspiracy types believe things that make almost everyone go “Whuh?”

    But very few of us (perhaps none of us) are totally immune to confirmation bias.

  18. sam says:

    @Kylopod:

    To be fair, I suspect Fleming didn’t read the whole article and was simply reacting to the headline.

    Fair? Fair? We don’ need no stinkin’ fair! This is politics.

    [But yeah, that’s probably true. But even then, the headline: “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex” should’ve triggered a “Whuh?” doncha think? I mean, “Abortionplex” — really?]

  19. sam says:

    @de stijl:

    I’m sorry I gave that impression.

    I didn’t take it that way. I just wondered what kind of worldview, etc.

  20. Kylopod says:

    @sam: Agreed. But the point is that there are limits to these things. If you understand the universe in which Fox-ified conservatives live, it makes sense that they might consider the “abortionplex” statement plausible, but it’s harder to believe they’d fall for the article’s other claims, if they bothered to read that far. To return to my previous example, I can believe that some conservatives might convince themselves that Jesse Jackson was a likely choice for Obama’s secretary of state, but if those same conservatives heard that he was going to choose Osama Bin Laden or Charlie Manson, even they might start to think the story sounded fishy.

    In short: even idiocy has its limits.

  21. de stijl says:

    @sam:

    I didn’t take it that way. I just wondered what kind of worldview, etc.

    Gotcha. We’re cool.

    However, you would be surprised about how a worldview can warp an otherwise sensible person’s perceptions. My tough-minded, eminently sensible mother has been fairly Fox-ified in the last few years. In September of 2008, my mom sort of off-handedly mentioned that Barack Obama’s Islamic faith was one of the reason’s she thought he would not win in November. I was gob-smacked. I suggested that she further research that assertion.

    Granted, she later acknowledged that he was Christian, but it took her a few days and I got the distinct impression that she was not terribly pleased with me at the time. She was overly nicey-nice about it in that Upper Midwestern way that “Bless his heart” is to a gracious Southern woman. To this day, I still think that she was more pissed at me for calling her on it than she was about being misled in the first place.

    I know you can’t make a trend out of a single datapoint, but it sucks when your mom is the datapoint.

  22. raider2119 says:

    I often quote and link to Onion articles…. this happens more than you realize… people that should know better are so gullible!!!

  23. sam says:

    “I know you can’t make a trend out of a single datapoint, but it sucks when your mom is the datapoint.”

    Sing it brother. Go back through the OTB archives and see if you can find my story about my grandmother’s burial arrangements. Imagine growing up in a family where that kind of thinking was common, hell, beyond common — common in the sense that breathing if you’re alive is common.

  24. sam says:

    I must say, I have never, ever understood that worldview. I got away as soon as I could, enlisting in the Marines when I was 16 (actually on my 17th birthday I was standing tall at MCRD San Diego). Adios crazypeople.