Blurring the satirical line

BLURRING THE SATIRICAL LINE…. Most half-way savvy news consumers know The Onion offers award-winning satire. It publishes items that look like news stories, but which are clearly intended to be funny.

With that in mind, an Onion piece this week headlined, “Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-Word E-Mail,” drew some chuckles.

Having admittedly “reached the end of [his] rope,” President Barack Obama sent a rambling 75,000-word e-mail to the entire nation Wednesday, revealing deep frustrations with America’s political culture, his presidency, U.S. citizens, and himself.

The e-mail, which was titled “A couple things,” addressed countless topics in a dense, stream-of-consciousness rant that often went on for hundreds of words without any punctuation or paragraph breaks. Throughout, the president expressed his aggravation on subjects as disparate as the war in Afghanistan, the sluggish economic recovery, his live-in mother-in-law, China’s undervalued currency, Boston’s Logan Airport, and tort reform.

According to its timestamp, the e-mail was sent at 4:26 a.m.

“Hey Everyone,” read the first line of the president’s note, which at 27 megabytes proved too large for millions of Americans’ in-boxes….

It goes on from there, even including a copy of the nonexistent 75,000-word email.

Fox News’ “Fox Nation” website, however, didn’t get the joke. It ran this as an actual news story, including a link back to the satire-based site. Fox’s commenters seemed overjoyed by the notion of an unbalanced president rambling in a semi-coherent email, unaware that they were all excited about a story that was quite literally a joke.

Hours later, Fox pulled its report, but made no effort to explain that it had fallen for a gag. Fox Nation simply deleted its entry without explanation. (Part of me isn’t sure why they bothered. It’s not like The Onion‘s piece was qualitatively less reliable than most of Fox’s other “reporting.”)

I am curious, though, how something like this could happen. Let’s say, just for the sake of conversation, that Fox’s editors have never heard of The Onion, or at a minimum, didn’t realize the site is satirical. And let’s also say that they found it plausible that President Obama would send a rambling, semi-coherent, 75,000-word email to the entire country.

Did it not occur to Fox’s editors that neither they nor anyone they knew actually received this email? Did they not notice that literally no media outlets on the planet were talking about what would have been a big political story?