A leading fact-checking website has once again put Christian satire website "The Babylon Bee" under its microscope. This time, the noble truth-seekers at Snopes.com are determined to debunk the myth, as propagated by the Bee, that prosperity preacher Joel Osteen "ripped up his Bible" at the end of a sermon.
In its examination of the claim, Snopes lays out the facts: "On Feb. 6, 2020, the Babylon Bee published an article positing that American pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen had ripped up a Bible in an act of defiance at the end of his sermon." Note that, despite knowing full-well that the Bee is a satirical publication, Snopes fails to acknowledge this crucial detail in its opening remarks.
The section of text examined by Snopes reads as follows:
"During Sunday’s service at Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen ripped up a Bible in a bold act of defiance. After the sermon was completed, in a theatrical display of his attitude toward the Scriptures, Osteen stood up and solemnly ripped the Bible in half before tossing it on the ground."
Finally, the fact-checkers, who have been accused of harboring a pretty staunchly left-wing political bias, qualify that this piece was, in fact, a joke. "This item was not a factual recounting of real-life events. The article originated with a website that describes its output as being humorous or satirical in nature," they noted.
Never shy to poke some fun at the televangelists of the day, the Bee was obviously engaging in some tongue-in-cheek satirical commentary. Still, that hasn't stopped groups like Snopes and even mainstream news websites such as CNN from targeting the comedy outlet. Indeed, this piece is just the latest in a lengthy back-and-forth between the satire site and the controversial fact-checkers over the veracity of the content it produces.
Speaking to Premier Christian News, Editor-in-Chief of the Babylon Bee Kyle Mann expanded on the Snopes problem:
"Our real issue with Snopes is twofold: first, designating any website -- particularly one that's anything but impartial -- as the objective fact-checking source on the internet is dangerous. They can slap their "True" or "False" label on a claim, and somehow it seems to carry more weight than other outlets that do well-researched investigative journalism.
"Their bias is evident in the kind of pieces they choose to fact-check, their shift in tone based on who it is they are fact-checking, and their willingness to bend over backward to defend the lies of their political allies and pet causes. "Who Snopes the Snopes?" we have joked in the past, but it's true. A fact-checker beholden to no one is detrimental to free speech and the free press."
Mann went on to highlight how bizarre it was that Snopes would fact-check such a blatant piece of satire:
"When they fact-check us in particular, they have in the past assigned us the motive of maliciously spreading fake news. This has been toned down in recent articles after we confronted them about it, but even a piece like this is just an odd choice for a fact-check: Joel Osteen ripping up a Bible live during his sermon? With an obvious Photoshop right up on top, a clear connection to a recent event, and incredible details such as Osteen's hands being burned as he touched the Bible?
"Snopes seems to feel it's their duty to make sure no one misunderstands a joke, and it's just not obvious to me that this piece was in danger of being misunderstood by many people or that there would be much harm if some people bought it.
"As long as there is satire, there will be people who misunderstand satire. It's only since Christians and conservatives started to get into the online satire game that Snopes and other fact-checkers have begun to cry foul."
In a recent interview with Fox News, the Bee's CEO, Seth Dillon, said his company was taking the Snopes situation seriously because the "fake news" reports could threaten their engagement rates on social media - a platform upon which their business is greatly reliant. "In cases where [Snopes] is calling us fake news and lumping us in with them rather than saying this is satire, that could actually damage us. It could put our business in jeopardy," Dillon said.
After tagging The Babylon Bee as "fake news," for an extended period of time, in August 2019, Snopes introduced a new tag to distinguish inaccurate, comic-natured news as "satire."