Meet the man who fools the news industry

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by Jamie Weinstein

If you were fooled by false reports Monday that liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has gone bankrupt, you can thank Daniel Barkeley, the 28-year-old founder and managing editor of the satirical online news site, The Daily Currant.

The Krugman story appeared as fact on the Boston Globe’s website, supposedly through an unedited newsfeed, and later on Breitbart.com. Another satirical Daily Currant story about Sarah Palin being hired by Al Jazeera was picked up by the Washington Post in February. Other false tales dreamed up at The Daily Currant have been covered sincerely by other news outlets and spread as gospel on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

But Barkeley says that’s not his goal.

“It’s not a big score, you know, for us to have a news organization pick it up as real,” he told The Daily Caller.

“It’s not what we’re going for. I mean, what we’re going for is laughs and good comedy. And the reason why we write the articles so close to truth is because that’s what we think is funny.”

Barkeley contrasts his site — which he founded after graduating from a business school in France last August and whose content is entirely produced by him and just one freelance journalist — with that of the larger, more established and, as of now, more popular satirical news site, The Onion.

“It’s kind of a parody of USA Today,” Barkeley said of The Onion. “That’s kind of what they’re going for. I don’t read USA Today. I read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, you know, the Post, Financial Times, the Economist, the Guardian. … I read more harder news stuff and so that’s kind of the stuff I want to satirize.”

In contrast to The Onion, Barkeley’s satire is subtler. He tries not to give the joke away in the headline like The Onion often does, and it often takes several paragraphs before the reader even realizes what they are reading is a joke, if they realize it at all.

What’s more, Barkeley likes to think his site tackles larger issues. He said he came up with the idea to start the site after he read “a hit piece on a hypothetical 12-year old” in The Onion

“I read that article and as soon as I read that article, I said, ‘now wait a minute, I think I can do better than this,” he said.

“Whatever your political leanings, I mean, you’ve got people on Wall Street, you’ve got people in Washington making bad decisions, you know, that actually have an impact on the world. You should be satirizing these people, not hypothetical 12-year olds.”

As for Barkeley’s political leanings, he said he considers himself “to be a centrist.”

“I think in the U.S. I would be a little to the left of center,” he explained. “Obviously in France I think I would be right of center.”

But, he added, “the only political leanings we have so much is kind of against extremism.”

The site has taken on liberals who Barkeley views as extremists, as well as conservatives he views that way. A sampling of recent headlines from The Daily Currant demonstrates he’s an equal opportunity offender:

Hugo Chavez will Remain President of Venezuela
Sean Penn Praises Chavez, Calls George Washington ‘a loser’
Catholic Church Blasted for Lack of Jewish Popes
Bob Woodward Claims Amtrak Chief Trying to Kill Him
OJ Simpson Says Pistorious is Innocent
Ted Cruz Says Emails Prove Hagel ‘Working for Al Qaeda’
Sarah Palin Appointed Visiting Scholar at Harvard
The Daily Currant’s articles often sound possible, if not entirely likely, until you get to a certain point in the story where a light should go off.

For instance, in the “Sarah Palin Appointed Visiting Scholar at Harvard” article, the story opens up saying that Palin was appointed to a position at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, an institution that has a history of employing many former politicos. Sure, the idea of Sarah Palin deciding to become a professor at Harvard sounds like an unlikely career move for her, but it could happen.

But when you get to the courses she is slated to teach — “John Locke and the State of Exception: Extrajudicial Executive Action In the Age of Terror” and “Pascal, Chateaubriand and The Modern U.S. Evangelical Movement,” among others — something should click that the story is not true.

In the Krugman story, the tale of his bankruptcy again initially sounds possible, if not particularly likely. But when you get to this quote attributed to Krugman, it should become clear that you aren’t dealing with a real piece of news.

“They say always dress for the job you want,” Krugman supposedly explains in the article. “So I thought maybe if I showed up in $70,000 Alexander Amosu suits they would give me ownership of part of the company. If I had only been granted a sliver of the New York Times Co., I could have paid everything back.”

Some may have also caught a quote disparaging Krugman in the story by Herman Minsky, a notable economist who died in 1996.

Barkeley now lives in Detroit, where he grew up, but hopes to ultimately move his operation to Los Angeles and expand it. The site is currently attracting a half of million visitors a month, according to Barkeley, and is making a small profit. He said he intends to add a video element to the site in the near future.

Until then, The Daily Currant will likely continue to fool ideological warriors on the left and right who want to believe crazy tales about their political enemies.

“It tends to be the extremist people, the people who are very far to the right or to the left, who tend to believe that stuff,” Barkeley said.

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