How a Humor Site Became a Menace to (Progressive) Culture
If you can't take a joke, it's a sure sign you'll never get one. The Times vs The Babylon Bee is a (nut) case in point. Tweet
The follies, hypocrisies and false of the Woke usually get a pass — but never by The Babylon Bee.
A typical Bee headline: "Solution To Government-Created Problem Is More Government, Says Government”.
The Bee’s enemies claim it’s hard to see where the jokes are -— somehow never a problem when it comes to Borat, "Weekend Update" or Jimmy Kimmel.
Bambi beat Godzilla when The Times was forced to remove the claim the Bee is a “far-right misinformation site” that only pretends to be satire.
Comedy has increasingly become a political cartel: Half the country and its views are effectively off-limits— their follies, their hypocrisies, their strange obsessions and false beliefs get a pass. Mockery of tradition is everywhere — in movies, on TV, in mainstream publications — and a lot of it is well-justified. But one of the few places you can go to find sharp and witty mockery of Woke thought and behavior is the Babylon Bee, which has in just five years become a leading comedy brand and an important cultural counterweight to progressive dogma. Who but the Bee would dare to run such headlines as “Solution To Government-Created Problem Is More Government, Says Government,” “Man Getting Evicted Wishes There Were Some Way He Could Go Out And Exchange His Labor For Money To Pay Rent” or “Wrestler Stripped Of Gold Medal After Pro-USA Comments Surface”?
Mann’s first piece — about how the Holy Spirit was stymied on its march through a church when the fog machine broke — went viral.
The Bee launched in March 2016 — just as Donald Trump was rampaging through the Republican primaries — by a Christian comics illustrator and comedian named Adam Ford (aka Adam 4D). Ford hates publicity, rarely gives interviews, and never even consented to allow his name to appear in the staff box on the Bee’s site. Kyle Mann, today the site’s editor-in- chief, says Ford liked the satirical fake news of The Onion and noted that “nobody was really doing it from a Christian worldview or would criticize the Left.” Mann, who was then working in sales for construction companies (underground pipes were a speciality) said on the Bee podcast that he loved the site so much that he began sending Ford pitches for jokes almost immediately. Mann’s first piece — about how the Holy Spirit was stymied on its march through a church when the fog machine broke — went viral. Within a few months Ford told Mann he was now the site’s head writer (although he continued to work in that sales job).
In 2018, entrepreneur Seth Dillon approached Ford about investing in the site and wound up buying a controlling interest. With the new infusion of capital, Mann was able to quit his day job and become the site’s full-time editor while taking on a few other regular employees, although he relies heavily on a regular stable of a couple of dozen freelance contributors. Now the Bee has a sister site, NottheBee.com, that runs genuine news that’s kind of hard to believe.
The Bee does plenty of jokes that make fun of the Right (“Upping the Ante: Trump Announces He Also Won Elections of 1860, 1972, 2008;” “Trump Reveals First Ten Items On His Agenda For When He Is Reinstated as President”) but its needling of the Left has earned it a roster of big-name enemies.
The New York Times, in a hit piece, slammed the Bee as a “far-right misinformation site” that “sometimes trafficked in misinformation in the guise of satire.” Yet everything the Bee publishes is clearly a joke. Does the Times think humor has to begin with the words, “Knock-knock”?
The Times is engaged in a sort of tag-team attack with Snopes.com, which bills itself as a nonpartisan fact-checking site but exhibits a clear bias to the left, to frame the Bee as so bad at satire that reasonable people might not get the joke. Hence the Bee’s supposed secret identity as a “misinformation” campaign ginned up by nefarious writers and Mann who edits them.
Two years ago Snopes ran a junk-science thumb-sucker of a piece (“Study: Too Many People Think Satirical News Is Real”) that zeroed in on the Bee as the major “problem” with satire, although it noted sheepishly in passing that satire created by Colbert and The Onion is also sometimes mistaken for truth by certain people. (The technical term for this group is “idiots.”) Rolling Stone bleated that “many” of the Bee’s posts are “explicitly transphobic and misogynistic,” a ridiculous smear that suggests feminists and trans people belong to a sealed-off, protected category which no humor can ever be allowed to penetrate. (The piece RS dubbed misogynistic was headlined, “Are you suffering from toxic masculinity? Know the warning signs.” Its premise: the “toxic masculinity” label is getting tossed around a bit too freely. The supposedly transphobic story was labeled, “Controversy as transgender woman wins jar-opening contest.” Not exactly hard-hitting.) Relying on Snopes as an authority, both Facebook and Twitter have smeared the Bee as misinformation and Twitter chiefs banned it briefly last summer, until a social-media protest changed their minds about the wisdom of that.
The Bee’s enemies are working to delegitimize the site primarily by pretending it’s difficult to see where the jokes are. Their joke-detection lobes never seem to fail them when it comes to Borat, or “Weekend Update,” or whatever Jimmy Kimmel is doing. “They’re using misinformation to smear us as a source of misinformation,” owner and CEO Dillon marveled on the cable and online program Real America’s Voice.
The practice of wrongjoke may have placed the Bee in existential danger. Yet despite operating with a tiny staff, the site regularly rings up 20 million page views a month. Fighting efforts to shut it down, the Bee is seeking new sources of revenue. It now has more than 20,000 paying subscribers to the premium version of its site, and its merch arm is getting creative with offerings such as a $23 “Support Fake Journalism” t-shirt.
All of this happens amidst the increasingly audible growling of Big Tech and The Times. Having enough litigators on hand to fill a football stadium, the Gray Lady probably assumed it had no need to feel threatened by any feeble complaints from the Bee about whether its reporting on the satire site was accurate. Still, for once, Bambi beat Godzilla: in June the Paper of Increasingly Unreliable Record finally granted the Bee’s request to remove the false claim that it is a “far-right misinformation site” that merely pretended to be satire.
If The Times is still in need of a little explainer of how the whole deal works, Dillon provided one on the Reverend and Reprobate podcast. “Satire,” he said, “is riding on the back of truth, it’s exaggerating the truth, but it’s pretty close to it and that’s what makes it funny. As with other forms of comedy, satire is funny because it’s (kind of) true.”