Hoax Watch: Drudge, Limbaugh report ironic tweet as election fraud

If you don't answer, "your" a coward.

If you don’t answer, your [sic] a coward.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of weird Twitter. I do read it occasionally, though. Maybe that’s why I chuckled on Sunday afternoon, when I saw the tweet pictured above. It’s clearly not sincere. For one thing, why would an actual postal worker tweet this? Why would he refer to the town where he works by its first and last name, so to speak? And why would a tweet from someone in Columbus be location-tagged in California, along with almost all other tweets from that account? Even if you don’t recognize the currency of topic and vague irony of tone, these clues are easy to catch. “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” reporters say, but you don’t have to be an ace to see through this one. It’s not even a hoax; it’s a joke, with the intentional transparency that jokes employ. But yesterday, conservative outlets including Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh snapped it up and reported it as election fraud.

Be sure to scroll through that Intercept story for the audio from Limbaugh’s show, in which the host works himself into hilariously high dudgeon. The chain from Raandy to Limbaugh is not totally clear, but it seems to run through Scott Baio and Jim Hoft’s Gateway Pundit blog before reaching Drudge Report, where it was the top story yesterday. Hoft has since updated his original post to note that it was a joke—an outrageous, offensive joke that should get old Raandy banned from Twitter. Hoft elaborated to the Daily Beast:

I find it concerning that far left buffoons think voter fraud is a joke. ‘Raandy’ may think destroying votes is funny but many Americans still believe in the sanctity of the ballot box even after eight years of Obama. To joke about rigging an election is not a laughing matter. I’ve seen others get banned from Twitter for far less than this.

Agreed that destroying votes is not funny. Donald Trump and certain other Republicans’ need to believe votes are being destroyed—a terror they seem to have fabricated from whole cloth, or maybe just the scraps of Trumps’ seemingly inevitable loss—is kind of funny, though. It’s also an existential threat to American democracy, but lets put that aside, for a second, to appreciate why this is such an effective hoax.

Part of the pleasure, here, is that Raandy seems not to have meant it as a hoax at all. He pretty clearly meant it as a joke, and throughout this bizarre saga, he has maintained his deadpan to an admirable degree. For example:


Now that’s trolling. Notice how he doesn’t go hostile, confident Mr. Berger will be enraged by his fatuous skepticism at the idea destroying mail is a crime. The obvious explanation here is not that this postal worker loves ripping ballots and doesn’t realize it’s against the rules. It’s that someone on Twitter is screwing around. But Berger wants to be outraged. His desire to confront some liberal apparatchik rigging the election against Trump blinds him to the simple explanation.

That’s something he has in common with Hoft and Limbaugh, and it’s what made this joke so improbably successful as a hoax. As we noted yesterday, the Republican nominee has spent the last few days saying the election is “rigged” against him—a claim whose allegations have escalated from media bias to outright voter fraud. He has made these allegations without any proof. But professional partisans like Limbaugh have taken it up anyway, probably because they don’t want to believe Trump’s impending loss means most people reject his politics, either. They are the macro version of what Raandy’s Twitter conversations capture in microcosm.

Remember that existential threat to democracy we put aside in paragraph three? Let’s take it up again. This joke turned hoax worked because Trump supporters were ready to believe it. They already buy Trump’s claim the election is rigged, simply because he said it and it comports with their worldview. Hoft is a hypocrite for indignantly saying “to joke about rigging an election is not a laughing matter.” He and his man are lying about rigging an election. That’s a joke minus the element of humor. In its place, Trump, Limbaugh, and their ilk have substituted a corrosive agnosticism toward democracy—a belief that the election isn’t real if their side doesn’t win. That’s probably not a laughing matter, either. But yesterday, at least, it was pretty funny.


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