Our fight for the right to make jokes
The Babylon Bee is facing censorship on multiple fronts, but we're not taking it lying down.
Almost daily, we get an email from one of our readers informing us that they usually like satire, but this time we’ve gone too far. They go on to explain that whatever we’d just skewered is off limits and should be left alone. They demand apologies and, in some cases, retractions. They want us to take it back.
Such is human nature. Mockery is fun (and funny) right up until it isn’t. The moment a joke strikes too close to home, we suddenly become uncomfortable.
But unlike the occasional disgruntled reader, the Left isn’t objecting to a one-off joke of ours. They’re objecting to our very existence as conservative satirists. Instead of asking us to take down an individual article they don’t like, they’re looking for ways to stop us from writing satire altogether.
Back in March, the New York Times ran a piece about Facebook’s difficulty in dealing with satire and irony on their platform. The author of that piece, Mike Isaac, pointed to The Babylon Bee as an example of a “far-right misinformation site” that “sometimes trafficked in misinformation under the guise of satire.” He said we dishonestly claim to be satire in order to protect our presence on social media.
This was false. It was defamation.
To make matters worse, the words “trafficked in misinformation” were hyperlinked, presumably to a supportive source. But the link they pointed to was another Times piece that described us as legitimate satire. In other words, it refuted — rather than supported — the claim they were trying to make.
Incredibly, the New York Times was using misinformation to smear us as being a source of it.
These malicious mischaracterizations are nothing new. Previously, Times reporter Kevin Roose wrote a defamatory piece in which he claimed that we “capitalize on confusion” and have a “habit of skirting the line between misinformation and satire,” whatever that means. CNN reporters made similar allegations. Snopes had to revise a fact check that suggested we deceive people on purpose.
But this time, we took action. Our counsel fired off a letter to the Times, demanding a correction. To our surprise, they responded a week later to say they’d removed the defamatory statements from their article. Apparently they wanted to avoid getting sued even more than they wanted to avoid telling the truth.
The significance of this win against the Times can’t be overstated. If their defamatory statements had stayed in print, the social networks and other service providers could have used them against us, citing them as cause for terminating our accounts. Instead, there’s now a mountain of media coverage highlighting the fact that it was the New York Times — not us — that had been trafficking in misinformation.
But the fight isn’t over.
Facebook just announced they’ll be moderating satire to make sure it doesn’t “punch down.” Anything that punches down — that is, anything that takes aim at protected targets Facebook doesn’t want you joking about — doesn’t qualify as “true satire.” In fact, they’ve made it clear they’ll consider jokes that punch down to be hatred disguised as satire. They write: “Indeed, humor can be an effective mode of communicating hateful ideas.”
Mere days after this announcement was made, Slate published a piece accusing us of having a “nasty tendency to punch down.” Shortly after it ran, that quote found its way onto our Wikipedia page, further solidifying the narrative.
This is not a coincidence. Having failed in their effort to lump us in with fake news, the media and Big Tech are looking for new ways to work together to deplatform us. They now hope to discredit us by saying we’re spreading hatred — rather than misinformation — under the guise of satire.
But we’re not “punching down.” We’re punching back.
Conservatives have been on the ropes in the culture war for a long time. We’re in a defensive posture, fighting back against the top-down tyranny of the Left’s progressive agenda. The jokes we make that they find so objectionable are aimed at popular progressive positions (e.g., the view that biological males who identify as women should be allowed to compete in women’s sports) promoted by politicians, celebrities, Big Tech, and all the largest corporations. If attacking those ideas isn’t punching up — given where they’re coming from and how they’re being advanced — then I don’t know what is.
More important, the Left’s prohibition of “punching down” is nothing but speech suppression in disguise. It’s people in positions of power protecting their interests by telling you what you can and cannot joke about. Comedians who self-censor in deference to that power are themselves a joke.
You certainly won’t find us doing it.
This brilliant piece—unrivaled by any other written work of any age, past or present—was originally published in The National Review.