When The New Yorker‘s Andy Borowitz printed a satirical article on Sunday saying that Sean Penn had lost an interview with ISIS after El Chapo was captured following his own sit-down with the Oscar winning actor, most readers let out a laugh.
Those familiar with Borowitz, after all, know him for his sharp send-ups of current events, yet unlike, say, The Onion sometimes it’s in a way that’s almost believable to the undiscerning eye. Before the Sean ISIS interview story Sunday, some of his recent headlines include “Lawyer for Martin Shkreli Hikes Fees Five Thousand Per Cent,” “Poll: Republicans Would Rather Actually Be Shot by Gun Than Agree with Obama,” and “Carson Announces Detailed Plan to Google Syria.”
His newest addition, “ISIS Chief Abruptly Cancels Meeting with Penn,” was a reference to the viral interview that Sean carried out with El Chapo shortly before the Mexican drug lord’s arrest. Because of rumors that the contact between the two helped lead to the fugitive’s arrest, Andy joked that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’ current leader backed out of another interview that he had set up with Penn after sensing possible danger.
Reading the brief article, it’s hard to imagine anyone — even someone unfamiliar with Borowitz — taking it seriously. It’s littered with jabs at Sean and attempts for laughs. For instance, Andy mentions Penn having already chosen the correct attire for the meeting.
“A publicist for the film actor said that he was ‘disappointed’ by the sudden termination of his appointment with the ISIS chief, and noted that Sean had gotten himself outfitted in brand new desert-camo attire in preparation for the meeting.”
Other clues ring out in the article: the use of the phrase ISIS spokesperson contrasted with Penn’s publicist, for example. The portion where al-Baghdadi insists, despite having to break the interview, that he is still an “enormous fan” of Penn, ending the short piece with the most clearly humorous line yet.
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi loves all of Sean’s films, even that one he did with Madonna.”
Unfortunately, one news site was unable to separate the fact from the satirical fiction. Deadline published a since retracted story repeating the original New Yorker piece about Penn‘s ISIS interview as if it were a serious piece of journalism. It didn’t last long, however, within an hour’s time, an editor pulled the story and issued an apology.
“A Deadline weekend editor misinterpreted a humorous story posted on The New Yorker website today and filed as a Deadline news story a supposed canceled meeting between the head of ISIS and Sean. The story, which was quickly stricken from the site, has no basis in truth and is a regrettable error. Deadline Hollywood apologizes to Mr. Penn.”
Aside from the obvious misstep in due research, the mistaken repeat of the ISIS story also opens another debate: Does satirical news do more harm than good? Many have wondered, as sites like The Daily Currant try to get as painfully close to reality as possible, if the joke has gone stale for this particular brand of humor in an age where a false news story can go viral just as easily as a true one. Gawker tore down not Deadline but Borowitz himself for the error.
“The fact that no one really ever need apologize to Sean Penn aside (and the fact that, yes, this is a hilarious blunder aside), this is just another testament to the Borowitz-brand, algorithm-friendly fake news parasites that plague our Facebook timelines under the auspice of satire. Satire that, in actuality, is little more than a vehicle for misinformation and much more like a lie than anything else.”
Do you think Sean Penn’s canceled ISIS interview is a believable satirical article following his El Chapo meeting?
[Image via AP Photo and Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]