November 6, 2007
In August, the blog recommended that Lindsay Lohan should be shipped to Guantanamo
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."
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.
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.
Corley said that conservatives were no better at sniffing out the prank.
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:
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:
The conservative Colarado site ToTheRight.org 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."
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."
"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.
Amused, the gaming blog pegged the post as "extremely entertaining propaganda speech."
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.
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."
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.
And often, he suggested, readers aren't sure whether to hail them or hate them:
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.
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)