Over the last few years, The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian satire publication, has blown up. In comedy, which has been, for many years, a domain dominated by the Left, The Babylon Bee has built a massive audience. This has made them a threat to the established order.
The Bee has been fact-checked multiple times for pieces that couldn’t be more obviously satirical, and recently, a New York Times journalist referred to them as “a far-right misinformation site.”
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bee CEO Seth Dillon about the success of the website, the need for satire, a possible defamation suit against the Times, and more.
You can listen to the interview via the SoundCloud embed, or read it below.
DW: So what drove you to acquire The Babylon Bee and shape it into what it is today?
DILLON: Money. I’m greedy and I wanted to be wealthy.
DW: Aside from money.
DILLON: Aside from fame and wealth and power?
So, I was a fan of the Bee from the outside, just like a lot of people were early on. And people were sharing the articles with me a lot, I saw them going viral all the time. And it looked like this small-time, little operation that was just like, basically, a WordPress blog, but was really taking off and having a lot of influence and impact. So I reached out to Adam Ford, who was running it, who had created it, I DMed him on Twitter. I was just asking him if he was interested in bringing on investors or anything to try to go to the next level.
He was actually in the middle of making a deal to sell the Bee at the time with somebody else, and so he declined to talk to me any further, but later reached back out after that deal fell through. And we struck up a conversation, and he — I really wasn’t interested in buying it, to be honest with you. Originally, I had a very full plate, I had a lot going on already, and so I was looking at it more from the perspective of a passive outside investor. But Adam really wanted to pull the ripcord, and he wrote a statement about why he sold the Bee when he sold it to me, and explained some of his justification for that. But among his many reasons was he wanted to do something new. He didn’t like the threat of big tech censorship and tyranny that we’re seeing come to play in fruition now. It really is a real problem.
So he saw all kinds of threats on the horizon, and he also didn’t like the attention that came with running the Bee. He’s a very private person and didn’t want all that attention, so we ended up working out a deal where — I mean, I couldn’t pass it up, so once we got into this conversation and he wanted to sell it, I decided it was better to buy it than not be involved at all. And it came with a built-in editor-in-chief, Kyle Mann, so I knew I wouldn’t have to be running the creative side of things day to day. But I just saw it as a tremendous opportunity to speak truth to culture in a very creative and impactful way, like it was already doing, and I wanted to be involved however I could be.
DW: Under your leadership over the last couple of years, it’s really blown up. And I know that from seeing that from the outside and also a little bit from the inside. Full disclosure, I have written a couple of pieces for the Bee, to anyone who’s listening, and—
Yes. And I take full credit for all the success, by the way. It’s all me.
DW: Absolutely. Without you, they’d be nothing.
DILLON: Without me, it would be absolutely nothing, yes. Anyway, go on with your questions.
DW: Because it’s exploded, I think it’s come into stark relief why comedy, especially on the Right, is important. So why do you think comedy, specifically satire, is so important in general?
DILLON: In general, it’s important because — well, I often throw this quote out there when I’m talking about the reason satire’s important. I think it’s a good one, although it doesn’t directly relate to satire. C.S. Lewis said that good philosophy must exist if for no other reason because bad philosophy need to be answered, and satire is necessary for, I think, exactly the same reasons. Satire ridicules bad ideas, and bad ideas are everywhere. They permeate our culture and our hearts and minds. Ridiculing them and attacking them and exposing them for what they are is one way of knocking them down. It’s not the same as refuting them with a philosophical argument or something like that, but it is one way of pushing back against bad ideas, and it’s a very effective way of doing it. And so I think that’s really what satire does best.
Satire does — I mentioned a moment ago, we speak truth to culture, we do that. We do have a positive message to share with people, but what satire often does most effectively, though, is just hold up to the light really terrible ideas — hypocrisy, double standards. It uses irony and just this mocking derision to tear it down and expose it for what it is. And it’s been employed very successfully as a tool, and that all sounds so negative. I know it sounds really negative, but it’s actually a morally good thing, in my view, to tear down bad ideas before they can take root in people’s hearts and minds. So, I think that’s why satire is very, very important, and I won’t say — we’re not in the business of saving lives, so I don’t like to overstate the importance of what we do, but I do think that that’s impactful. I do think in the culture wars that we’re seeing right now, somebody needs to be doing it and doing it effectively, and I think we’re filling that role at the moment.
DW: And that goes right into my next question which is: the Left has the stranglehold on comedy, and I put comedy in air quotes because most of it is pretty terrible right now—
DILLON: It’s a little preachy at the moment.
DW: Just a bit, and the Bee has been wildly successful in breaking through that comedic hegemony where many others have failed. Why is that, do you think, and is there a roadmap that you’ve provided, that the Bee has provided, that other people can maybe try to follow or emulate in some way?
DILLON: Well, I think what the Bee does … we’re so often described as a — well, we’re described in a lot of ways, but one of the ways that we’re described in the media is as a right-wing or conservative version of The Onion, right?
So, we’re doing the same thing that they’re doing. We’re employing the same kind of sarcasm, irony, mockery, the same type of satirical humor that they’re employing, we’re just doing it from a different worldview, a different political perspective, theological perspective. The ideology behind it is different, but the tactic, the execution is similar. So, I think it’s just meeting them on their ground and doing what they’ve done so successfully. I’m not sure why there aren’t more players on the Right who are doing that. One of the things that conservatives in general, and Christians in particular, have really struggled with is to create really good-quality entertainment.
The Left has owned entertainment — they’ve owned a lot of things, education, entertainment. But particularly in entertainment, comedians tend to try to be really clean, and they end up being really cheesy. You have these shows that people are producing or movies that people are producing, like Christian movies or whatever that are just poorly done, low-budget stuff, the acting’s not great, the writing isn’t great, the bad guys are caricatures, the whole thing is cheese, cheese, cheese.
I think the Bee really successfully launched into the comedy world without doing really cheesy, silly stuff that automatically just discredited it in a lot of people’s minds. I think that it was biting and it was snarky, and it was — it struck a tone that, I think, was widely accepted as being — and of course, not universally accepted. Everybody on the Left thinks that we’re not funny at all. They think that we’re not funny at all because they think we make the same jokes over and over again, they’re tired jokes, or they’re not rooted in truth. But they just see reality differently than we do, and rather than being willing to laugh at jokes that they’re the target of, they get offended by that. So, I’ve been talking for a long time, let’s circle back to what the original question was and see if I answered it. What was the original question again?
DW: I believe you have. Why have you broken through, and if there’s a roadmap others can follow. I think you’ve adequately answered that.
DILLON: Yeah, I think so. I mean, have we created a roadmap purposefully? No, but I think emulating the success that we’ve had or the approach that we’ve taken would be prudent for other people on the Right in general, and in the Christian world in particular.
DW: So do you think mockery and irony, and taking the Left’s values and turning a mirror back on them can help the Right break through the leftist monopoly on media?
DILLON: Break through? I don’t know. I mean, well, that depends on a number of things. It depends, really, first and foremost on whether or not we’re allowed to continue to even operate on their platforms. One of the ways that — we’re totally contingent on Facebook and Twitter and Google, they own us, they are how we reach our audience. And so the Left has a stranglehold on everything, including big tech now, and media. The liberal media is trying to smear us as being a disinformation hub, and social networks trying to clear out disinformation and mitigate the spread of misinformation, so we are facing an uphill battle in just trying to stay alive on these platforms. So whether we will lead the charge in this successful surge to overtake some of these things really depends on whether or not we’re allowed to even continue to operate. Does that make sense?
DILLON: But we will continue to fight to assert our right to be there. I don’t think it’s wise for conservatives to go run and hide in their own little private corners of the internet, whisper amongst themselves. These big platforms are the public square, we should be allowed to have a presence there, and so I think we need to fight for that however we can. But in terms of pushing back in all of those different areas, we’re just in one — I mean, we’re in one particular area. In the area of comedy, I think we’re filling a void. We are doing something that the Left has historically done better than the Right, and we’re doing it really well to the point where we’re now, in my view, from what I can tell, we are the most popular satire site on the internet at the moment, so we’ve certainly made tremendous ground there.
DW: So in terms of a media and tech-coordinated strangulation, that’s right onto my next question, which is a long one.
In a March 19 piece by NYT tech journalist Mike Isaac pertaining to Facebook having difficulty dealing with satire, Isaac wrote of the Babylon Bee: “But satire kept popping up as a blind spot. In 2019 and 2020, Facebook often dealt with far-right misinformation sites that used ‘satire’ claims to protect their presence on the platform, Mr. Brooking said. For example, The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning site, sometimes trafficked in misinformation under the guise of satire.”
After pushback from you and others on social media, Isaac issued an update:
“But satire kept popping up as a blind spot. In 2019 and 2020, Facebook often dealt with far-right misinformation sites that used ‘satire’ claims to protect their presence on the platform, Mr. Brooking said. [Updated March 22, 2021: The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning satirical site, has feuded with Facebook and the fact-checking site Snopes over whether the site published misinformation or satire.]”
Can you walk me through this whole saga?
DILLON: Yeah. So this is the latest in a string of misrepresentations that have come out of liberal media. We’ve had our run-ins with Snopes in the past that he referenced there in that update. CNN personalities, Brian Stelter, Donie O’Sullivan, both called us fake satire, that we bury the satire disclaimer somewhere deep in the site so that no one will understand that we’re satire, so we can mislead people and get around Facebook’s rules. Those suggestions have been floated many times, and we have fought back very aggressively against that for a very good reason. We, of course, engage in satire and mock them, and write scathing satirical pieces that make them look silly for doing this, but we also will go to the media and say very seriously, put my suit on and my serious face, and talk about the serious implications of this for our business and the purpose of this.
What they’re trying to do is suggest that we are a source of misinformation, that we’re deliberately misleading people so that they can get us removed from these social networks, which are trying to clear out misinformation.
So, it’s really important that we refute those lies whenever they pop up, so they don’t stick to us. Well, with this New York Times piece, which is just the latest example, and it was really egregious because he’s got one paragraph in there. First of all, the story is about Facebook’s difficulty in dealing with irony and satire, and he deals with this left-wing cartoonist, really, in a friendly way. He’s sympathetic to the fact that this guy has been dinged many times by Facebook because Facebook can’t tell that he’s making jokes, and it’s unfortunate that he’s doing satire and he’s getting caught up in this stuff.
Now, instead of citing us as an example on the other side of the aisle, where that’s also happening — because that happens to us, too. We’ve gotten dinged before by publishing satire that was misunderstood. Instead of suggesting that we’re just misunderstood satirists, like this left-wing guy, he suggests that we’re a far-right misinformation site that traffics in misinformation, and that’s just so disingenuous and dishonest. The real difference is he just doesn’t our politics, I guess. But ultimately, he did misrepresent us. He used misinformation to smear us as being a source of misinformation, which, I think, is kind of ironic.
So, we made a public statement about how inaccurate it was, and how egregious it was, that he would not even — it wasn’t even stated, by the way, as an opinion. It was stated as a fact in a regular news article, that we trafficked in misinformation. And we were the only site listed when he mentioned far-right misinformation sites. There were no other sites referenced there. We were the only ones. So, pretty defamatory in our view. So we pointed out the problem with that and how we’re a well-known satire site, we’re actually the most popular satire site out there right now. We do more traffic than The Onion, so there’s really no excuse for a mainstream reporter to be mischaracterizing us that way.
But then you dig into it a little bit and he links to — I know I’m giving you a long answer to this, I’m sorry, but there’s a lot of info here. He links to a source for the words that he used, “trafficked in misinformation.” He hyperlinks those, and you would expect that to go to a supportive source, but when you click through to it, it just goes to a New York Times profile of The Babylon Bee that describes us as a conservative satire site. And in fact, that article actually talks about a couple of times when we were fact-checked for what should have been obvious satire.
Far from supporting the claim that we trafficked in misinformation, nowhere does it even mention disinformation, that article actually refutes that idea by characterizing us as a legitimate satire operation. So the hyperlink to that source was just confusing and not supportive at all. One wonders if he even read it or if he just expects to be able to hyperlink to anything, and no one will read it, and just take his word for it that we trafficked in misinformation. I’m not sure what was going on there.
DW: My guess is the latter.
DILLON: Yeah. So then you have the update. So we make a lot of noise about this. Mike Isaac is the author of the piece, he’s getting tagged over and over again in comments that are ripping him apart for his treatment of us. And so he decides to go in there and delete the sentence that said that we trafficked in misinformation, and add in that line about how we feuded with Snopes and Facebook in the past — and that was a really interesting thing to do. Instead of saying, “A previous version of this article mischaracterized The Babylon Bee as a misinformation site. They’re actually a popular satire site, go check them out.” Instead of a correction like that, he references this feud to kind of say, well, it’s in dispute, whether they’re satire or misinformation.
But when you click through to his source for that, you click on the Snopes link that he provides there in that update, and it takes you to a Snopes fact-check that used to have language in it that was accusing us of misleading people on purpose. They edited it, though, when we confronted them about that, to take that language out, and then put in an editor’s note saying that, “A previous version of this fact-check had been interpreted as imputing deceptive intent on the part of The Babylon Bee. It was not our intention to impute that on them. We’ve edited it, and we’re in the process of pioneering standards for how to handle satire,” or something like that.
So in the very piece that they linked to to say that there is a feud with Snopes about whether we publish misinformation or satire, Snopes themselves says, in their editor’s note, that they are not challenging us on whether or not we publish satire. They’re not accusing us of deceptive misinformation. So, that source isn’t supportive of what they’re trying to say either.
Now, of course, there was, and you could probably characterize it as a feud, what happened with Snopes, but it was because Snopes falsely mischaracterized us, and we slapped them down for that, and they fixed it. So that’s not really a genuine feud over whether or not we publish misinformation; that’s actually an indication that Snopes is out there publishing misinformation. And they now stand corrected in their misinformation. So, kind of interesting how that all works.
DW: Now because of this, what I would describe as a hit line in a piece and the weak-tea update that they added, are you and the Bee going to file any kind of defamation suit against Isaac or The New York Times?
DILLON: That’s a good question; that is a big question. I don’t know the answer to that yet because I’m still consulting with legal counsel about whether or not that’s the right play, but it is absolutely something that we are considering, and it is the option that we’re currently exploring and trying to determine whether or not — is it worth it? Is it justified? Could we win? Those are big questions. So, we’re currently exploring that at the moment and trying to decide if that’s the right play.
It clearly is a case of defamation, I think. Obviously, when you go, though, through the courts, you need to prove malice. You need to prove actual malice, and that that was their intent. And you have to get past motion to dismiss, which is what they’re going to go for first, and so it’s a challenging thing. But I do think that conservatives need to be willing to fight back and not just take this stuff lying down, so I tend to err on the side of aggression with this stuff. But I’m trying to listen to my legal counsel and see what we need to do, but we haven’t made up our minds on that yet.
DW: Is there something that we haven’t talked about satire, about comedy, about the potential legal drama, about anything that you would want the readership and the viewership of The Daily Wire to know?
DILLON: I think the big thing, the thing that really matters — if you take us out of the equation, there is a concerted effort, and this is not like a conspiracy theory — because there’s evidence of it — that there is this concerted effort on the part of liberal media and big tech to work together to stifle voices they don’t like, and to suppress views they don’t like, and to discredit opponents who aim at targets they don’t like. And when you zoom in on us, we’re a really good example of that. You can see specific cases where you have the media trying to characterize us a certain way, they’re trying to establish a narrative, trying to get these facts printed somewhere so that they can then cite them and reference them somewhere else to get us deplatformed somewhere else.
So, there’s a clear strategy at play there, and eventually — who knows where it’s going to go? I expect them to continue to do this, it continually happens. And I just think everybody needs to be aware of how this all works. When you go on our Wikipedia page, our Wikipedia page describes who we are and what we do, and Wikipedia is considered a reliable source. Well, Wikipedia will only allow you to quote from “reliable sources” in characterizing webpages and businesses. So, if New York Times had been allowed to let this lie stand, someone could have gone on to our Wikipedia page, edited it to say that we’re not actually a satire site, we’re a far-right misinformation site that traffics in misinformation, and Wikipedia would have let that stand because it’s a reliable source. And then you would have been — where would you go to get another counter-reliable source to discredit it? Where are you going to go? National Review? Federalist? Daily Wire? Wikipedia is not going to consider any of those reliable sources.
So the system is rigged in such a way that they completely have this system set up where they can just make the — as long as it’s the reliable sources making things up, they can then cite these made up things as reason for taking action. And people need to be aware that that’s the game that’s being played here, and that it’s really insidious, it’s really pernicious, and it’s really dangerous. And so we just want to make as many people aware of that as possible, and what it takes to fight back against it. We have to expose this stuff for what it is. It is in fact outlets like CNN, New York Times, Washington Post that are trafficking in misinformation under the guise of journalism.