Satire and parody are important forms of political commentary that rely on blurring the line between truth and outrageousness to attack, scorn and ridicule public figures. Although they may be offensive and intentionally injurious, these statements contain constitutionally protected ideas and opinions, provided a reasonable reader would not mistake the statements as describing actual facts. Put another way, subjects of even the most biting satire or criticism cannot successfully sue unless the irreverent comments contain a provably false fact. Moreover, public officials and figures must prove that the defendant published the statement with actual malice.
Because liability for satire and parody hinges on a reasonable person’s belief about the truthfulness of the commentary, you would be wise to consider various factors that may help ensure that a reasonable person would recognize your material as protected ideas and opinion rather than actual facts that could be defamatory. The context of the entire publication is important, so no single factor included below is guaranteed to protect you from liability, nor is an inclusion of all of these suggestions necessary:
Use an unorthodox headline to alert readers from the beginning that the story is not straight news and use an irreverent tone throughout the piece;
Consider your web site’s history, or lack thereof, of publishing satire or parody. If you generally publish only financial reports, for example, you should be more careful than a blogger or other online content provider who regularly publishes stories like those in the Onion;
Choose carefully the parody’s location on the site, making sure to avoid posting it among several straight news stories;
Include in the story unbelievable or outrageous items, experts or groups with ridiculous names or silly acronyms and quotes that are incredible, illogical or over-the-top;
Substitute fictitious names that are close to or suggest real people for the names of actual people;
Publish the parody soon after the actual incident while it is still in the public’s mind and, if possible, explicitly refer to that event in your commentary on it; and
Post a disclaimer but keep in mind that it will not necessarily avoid liability, especially if it is written in small print at the end of an otherwise believable story.
Also keep in mind that satire and parody may implicate copyright concerns since the art forms must often take recognizable elements from the works on which they comment.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote an opinion piece entitled "The Enemy Among Us" alleging that former President Barack Obama was creating a "shadow government" through his nonprofit Organizing for Action.Misattributed
An opinion piece arguing that former President Barack Obama’s nonprofit Organizing for Action (OFA) is a “shadow government” organization aimed at tearing down the Constitution has been circulating under various titles since it was originally published in February 2017. But it wasn’t until months later, when Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer’s name was erroneously attached to the text, that this opinion piece started gaining popularity.
A portion of this opinion piece as it circulated under the title “The Enemy Among Us” is reproduced below:
I do not understand how living in a country with its democracy established over 200 years ago, and now, for the first time in history, suddenly we have one of our former presidents set up a group called “Organizing for Action” (OFA).
OFA is 30,000+ strong and working to disrupt everything that our current president’s administration is trying to do. This organization goes against our Democracy, and it is an operation that will destroy our way of governing. It goes against our Constitution, our laws, and the processes established over 200 years ago. If it is allowed to proceed then we will be living in chaos very much like third world countries are run. What good is it to have an established government if it is not going to be respected and allowed to follow our laws?
If you had an army some 30,000 strong and a court system stacked over the decades with judges who would allow you to break the laws, how much damage could you do to a country? We are about to find out in America!
The claim that Krauthammer penned this op-ed seems to have originated on the the web site Nesara News, which introduced the text with a brief paragraph lauding the credibility of the conservative columnist on 11 October 2017. The web site also claimed that the article had appeared in the New York Post:
Krauthammer is about the best and brightest journalist and political analyst we have, in my opinion. His words of warning in the below message should be taken seriously and spread throughout the country so as many of our citizens as possible are made aware of what is happening right under our noses! An article from the New York Post:
This article was never published in the New York Post, nor was it written by Charles Krauthammer. In fact, the Post’s author page for Krauthammer only lists two articles, both of which were published in 2009, and neither of which dealt with Organizing for Action.
The majority of this text originated in a 13 February 2017 blog post on “The Daily Jot,” nearly 8 months before Krauthammer’s name was erroneously attached to it. The post was entitled “The Perilous Times We Live In” and attributed to Christian journalist Bill Wilson.
With the exception of the opening and closing paragraphs, Wilson’s article and the “Krauthammer” article are practically identical. Here’s a comparison of the two articles with the shared text highlighted:
Wilson confirmed to us via email that he is the original author of this op-ed. Mike Watson, a research assistant for Krauthammer, also told us via email that this op-ed did not originate with the conservative columnist:
Dr. Krauthammer did not write it and has nothing to do with it.
Krauthammer’s name was simply tacked onto the end of this article in an attempt to lend it an air of credibility. We previously addressed the claim that President Obama was forming a shadow government to undermine the Trump presidency and found that it was based on little to no evidence.
Fact Checker:Dan Evon
Featured Image:Gil C / Shutterstock.com
Published:24 October 2017
Updated:26 October 2017
Wilson, Bill. “The Perilous Times We Live In.”
Daily Jot. 13 February 2017.
Sperry, Paul. “How Obama is Scheming to Sabotage Trump’s Presidency.”
New York Post. 11 February 2017.