How a Congressman Mistook Planned Parenthood Satire for News

COMMENTARY | The Onion is one of the funniest sites on the web, but it is not a credible news source.

Apparently, no one told Republican Rep. John Fleming. According to The Sideshow on Yahoo! news, Fleming took one of The Onion’s stories seriously enough to post a link to the parody article on his Facebook page in the wake of controversy surrounding Susan G. Komen’s grants to Planned Parenthood. The story discussed non-existent plans to create an $8 billion “Abortionplex” that was part shopping mall and part nightclub.

For the uninitiated, The Onion is both a print tabloid and website that offers up satirical news reports along with amusing commentary on both real and totally made-up news stories. It’s not new, either. The paper version has been around since 1988; the online version since 1996.The parody news organization won a 2008 Peabody Award. This sample headline is cited on the Peabody Awards website illustrating one typical of The Onion: “Presidential candidate John McCain has pledged to cut $50 million from the federal budget by eliminating the Secret Service and defending himself with his bare fists.” Funny? Yes. Believable? Not exactly.

By posting a different, but equally ridiculous, fake Onion headline on his Facebook page as a serious article about Planned Parenthood, Fleming put the parody site in real news this week. Politico reported that The Onion’s editor, Joe Randazzo, is “proud to count [the congressman] as a reader” and that Fleming has removed the article but declines to comment.

The following theories represent an attempt to explain how Fleming may have gotten confused.

Theory #1

Fleming read only the May 2011 headline that said “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex” and was so horrified, he felt compelled to repost it without actually reading the story.

Theory #2

He actually did read the entire article and believed that Planned Parenthood was really opening a “sprawling [2,000+ room] abortion facility” that featured “coffee shops, bars, dozens of restaurants and retail outlets, a three-story nightclub, and…a multi-plex theatre” that would “help clients relax…foster a sense of community and make abortion more of a social event.”

Theory #3

Perhaps Fleming read the article, knew it was fake, but thought it so was funny he wanted to spread the dark humor to his constituents.

Theory #4

He knew it was satire, but hoped others wouldn’t notice that the article was from The Onion.

Theory #5

There is, of course, the possibility that Fleming was hoping to make an Onion headline himself by pretending not to know the story was a fake.

Whatever happened, it’s probably a good idea for Rep. Fleming to take a break from social media and familiarize himself with other sites on the Internet. While some present actual news, others are designed to be humorous. I would recommend starting with a website called It would be really embarrassing to mistake that one for an actual news source.

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