The so-called mainstream media has lost touch with real America, says Seth Dillon, CEO of The Babylon Bee, a Christian website that specializes in satire.
“Whatever you want to call it, the mainstream media doesn’t really represent mainstream America, so I do think that’s a misnomer,” Dillon says, adding:
It comes out in a lot of the conflicts that we have. Like when The New York Times is criticizing us, they’re actually using misinformation to smear us as being a source of misinformation. It’s all projection that everything that they accused us of doing, they’re actually doing themselves. So I think they are probably doing more damage than almost anyone else to this country, just by manipulating the truth and acting like they’re the arbiters of the truth.
Dillon joins me for a bonus episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” recorded at Turning Point USA’s seventh annual Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida.
Listen to the podcast or read the lightly edited transcript below.
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Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Seth Dillon, who is the CEO of The Babylon Bee. Seth, It’s great to have you with us.
Seth Dillon: Great to be with you on the show. Thanks for having me.
Del Guidice: Can you start off by telling us about the genesis of The Babylon Bee? So many people love it, and I think there are some people who love it but just don’t know about it. So tell us about The Babylon Bee and how y’all got your start.
Dillon: The Babylon Bee is a satire site. We’re always described in the media as a right-wing version of The Onion. I guess that’s a good way of giving people a reference point for what we are and what we do, because most people have heard of The Onion. It’s an apt description. We’re conservative, so we’re doing satire from a conservative perspective.
But the site started back in 2016. It’s about 5 years old now. We launched it because—well, Adam Ford launched it, he’s the one who founded it in 2016. And he launched it because there was this massive void on the right for comedy that wasn’t cheesy.
There’s a lot of Christian media that was being done, and [Ford] was coming at it from a Christian perspective too. And, there was just so much cheesy, silly stuff that wasn’t really punchy or impactful in the culture. So he saw an opportunity to do satire from that perspective, launched the site in early 2016, and within a couple of months, it was going viral and getting millions of page views.
So it was clear there was obviously a huge demand for that type of content, that type of comedy. He just started building a team of talented people around him who were able to do that very effectively. And it’s just been growing ever since.
Del Guidice: Can you talk a little bit more about how you do use satire to bring humor to a news cycle that is so bleak?
Dillon: Well, you said bleak, is that the word you used?
Del Guidice: Yeah. Most days, yes.
Dillon: It’s bleak, it’s also a little crazy. I’m going to be giving a talk here tomorrow and I’m going to lead off with a quote from G. K. Chesterton when he said, “The world has become too absurd to be satirized.” He said that in 1911. Men weren’t trying to breastfeed babies back then or competing in the women’s Olympics. Reporters weren’t standing in front of burning buildings and saying the situation was mostly peaceful.
The stuff that you see today in the news cycle that seems like a joke is real. And the project of satire is challenging in that environment. We often hear from people, “Your job should be so easy in this crazy world because there’s so much to make fun of.” But satire exaggerates the truth. And when the truth is crazy, how do you parody something that’s already a parody of itself? That’s a challenge. So it’s actually pretty tough for us.
But the bleakness of it, the depressing nature of a lot of this stuff, of the decline of the culture, those things are sad. And I think a lot of people appreciate the levity we bring to some of those topics.
Del Guidice: I want to talk about more of that in a little bit. But I wanted to ask you, as the CEO, do you have a couple of your favorite Babylon Bee pieces that you’re like, “These are some of my favorites that we’ve published and put out for people”?
Dillon: I do. We have our superviral ones, the ones that have just gone crazy viral. One of those recently was … the motorcyclist who identifies as a bicyclist and sets a world record. So it was shared millions of times. Hopefully, nobody believed it was true, but it was believable.
Some of the ones that get fact-checked, I think it’s just crazy. The ones that get fact-checked, they really stick out in my mind. Like “9th Circuit Court Overrules the Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” It’s like, you can’t overrule someone’s death, but they fact-checked it, and they cited 15 sources in the refutation of that joke. So that kind of stuff is just silly and sticks out in my mind.
But one of my personal favorites was when I wrote a headline on how Democrats were proposing legislation that would make eating at Chick-fil-A hate crimes. That one went viral and got snoked. So it got fact-checked and rated false. I printed that one out and mounted it on my wall, so that’s one of my personal favorites.
Del Guidice: Sometimes you have to wonder. This is satire, these people are fact-checking satire articles. It’s just something else.
Dillon: It is a little silly and insane. It’s OK if they fact-check satire and just say, “Hey, this came from a satire site.” The problem we’ve run into is the many times they fact-checked us and not just rated it like satire, but rated it false and then we get penalized for that, like we’re spreading fake news.
Del Guidice: So you write satire, and so much of what we see right now in the news we would think, “Wow, this seems like it should be satire,” but it’s not. What are your thoughts on that? Just the escalating nature of where we’re at right now in general in this country, but also in society as a whole.
Dillon: It’s a little disconcerting and alarming. I think that so many of these stories should be satire and aren’t. We actually launched a whole new site about that, we have a spinoff site called Not the Bee. That came from this trend where people were sharing stories that were really insane, hard-to-believe insane. And they would say something like, “This is not The Onion.” Or, “This is not from The Babylon Bee, this is real.” So we launched a site called Not the Bee that just features those types of stories and offers commentary on those stories.
And really the intent of that is to draw out the absurdity of these things and mock how ridiculous the world has become. If I could sum up the project of what we do, our mission, what we’re trying to accomplish, is, we ridicule bad ideas. That’s the most succinct way I can put it: We ridicule bad ideas. I know it sounds negative to say that we ridicule.
We ridicule, but I think that it’s a moral good in a society that’s lost its way to this extent, that’s praising things that are terrible, that are evil, and denouncing things that are good and true. In that context, mocking and ridiculing bad ideas before they can take root in people’s minds and hearts I think is a noble thing.
Del Guidice: On that note, one of your recent pieces had something to do with what’s happening in Cuba; in your headline, “You just don’t understand socialism like I do,” a college freshman says to a man who escaped socialism on a raft. And so given what’s happening in Cuba right now and the affection that a lot of young people have in this country for socialism, and around the world, what are your thoughts or perspective to share with them? Maybe so that they can take another look and be like, “What’s coming out of Cuba right now is the natural end of what happens in a communist country.”
Dillon: I think so much of that perspective, like where they’re coming from, it stems from ignorance. It stems from them really not knowing what’s been tried in the world and the hardship that a lot of people are going through, that are living under these conditions and these systems. So drawing attention to that and highlighting that, that’s another one of those bad ideas that we’re trying to ridicule. Just expose how it hasn’t worked and how it’s hurt people.
If we can do that in a humorous way, it’s a little bit more disarming than if we just try to get into an argument with them, an argument till we’re both blue in the face. Mocking it, ridiculing it, making it look stupid and silly, young people respond to that.
Del Guidice: You recently did a video for PragerU called “Killing Comedy.” Can you tell us about that?
Dillon: Yes. They had asked me to do a video talking about basically the attacks that we faced as conservative satirists, which is just so different from what you see. The left has always been very good at doing satire, doing comedy, and they never face these sort of attacks where people are trying to get them deplatformed for misleading people on purpose and stuff like that.
So I talked about in that video a couple of ways [inaudible]. One of them is by making the world insane and the other way is, by trying to censor us, trying to shut us up. They do that by calling us fake news, they do it by saying we punched down [at] a target so we should be leaving it alone. They try to malign us and misrepresent us. So I talked about those issues and what that means for satire
Del Guidice: Big picture, what is your perspective on mainstream media today?
Dillon: Mainstream media.
Del Guidice: Yes, mainstream media.
Dillon: Legacy media, whatever you want to call it. The mainstream media doesn’t really represent mainstream America, so I do think that’s a misnomer. It comes out in a lot of the conflicts that we have. Like when The New York Times is criticizing us, they’re actually using misinformation to smear us as being a source of misinformation. It’s all projection, that everything that they accused us of doing, they’re actually doing themselves. So I think they are probably doing more damage than almost anyone else to this country, just by manipulating the truth and acting like they’re the arbiters of the truth. They are completely shaping narratives and telling a story and have no regard whatsoever for the truth, and I think that’s very dangerous. So we try to take them to task as much as we can.
Del Guidice: What about your perspective on conservative media, what is conservative media doing well, and what would you say is some constructive criticism for conservative media?
Dillon: I think conservative media is doing a lot of things well. Organizations like Turning Point USA and PragerU that you just mentioned and some of these conservative powerhouses like Daily Wire and Blaze Media and stuff like that are reaching very large audiences, reaching a lot of young people, generating billions of views on videos that speak truth to culture. So I think that a lot is being done right. In fact, a lot is being done better than what the left is doing.
But I think that one of the things that we do that is most detrimental to our cause is we feed into this tyrannical censorship and cancel culture by censoring ourselves to some extent.
There’s a lot of stuff that we hold back on, there’s a lot of things that people don’t want to publish or say on these social media networks and sites because they’re afraid that they’re going to get penalized, it’s not going to get shares, or it’s going to end up demonetizing their page or getting them deplatformed or something like that.
Those types of fears, when we cave to that pressure to censor ourselves, we’re doing the tyrant’s work for him. I think that’s one of the things that conservatives need to realize, is we need to speak truth boldly and unashamedly. And if we get banned for it, we get banned for it. But that would just make our voice louder, honestly. Every time that they’ve tried to suppress our voice, they’ve amplified it.
Del Guidice: That’s so incredible. And I want you to just mention this and talk about this a little bit more. There are so many people, as you alluded to, I think this was specifically meant for people in their workplaces, where they feel like they can’t talk about their values or where they stand on policy because there’ll be fired. And that’s where we are right now in the state of play in politics and society. Advice, thoughts you have for people who maybe are in a job right now where they feel like they can’t say anything, what advice would you have for them?
Dillon: People hate the advice I give on this subject. They hate the advice I give on this subject because I don’t tell them, “Just go along to get along.” I tell them, “Look, if you’re not willing to risk anything for your right to say what you think … ” There have been people who were willing to lay down their lives for freedom, and we’re not willing to risk being reprimanded at our job or losing our Twitter page. We have to be willing to risk something and lose something to preserve our freedom or it’ll be taken from us.
Like I said, when you censor yourself, you’re doing the tyrant’s work for him. When you speak boldly, you encourage other people to do it too. And if a lot of people … Imagine you have a company where half the people are conservative but none of them will speak their mind. Imagine if they started to. And they didn’t do it one by one but altogether. We’re willing to stand. You can’t fire half your company. I know that myself, I couldn’t fire half my employees right now, it would put me out of business. So you’re playing into their hands when you do that, when you silence yourself.
So I know it’s a risk, you risk losing your job. A lot of people have wives and kids and they need to be able to support them. But there’s a lot of places hiring right now, you can find work somewhere else if you have to. I know it sounds brutal, but people have to start standing up and speaking the truth.
Del Guidice: What advice do you have for people who work in media as someone who works in media constantly? It can be a very draining job because the news cycle’s ever-present, and media just in general is part of our daily life whether we like it or not. So what are some ways you stay grounded and you stay focused given your job of being steeped in this all the time?
Dillon: Well, for us, I think it’s easier than for other people because we’re not having to do a lot of serious commentary and grapple with these issues and dig in and on it and argue with people, we’re making jokes, I make jokes on the internet. So I think that it helps when it’s very lighthearted that way.
For us, we’re bantering back and forth in our Slack channels, just tossing around ideas and riffing on ideas and iterating on each other’s headlines and stuff like that. For us, I think it’s a lot easier that we’re looking at it from that perspective, we’re trying to make people laugh.
Del Guidice: Well, Seth, thank you for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” It’s great having you with us.
Dillon: Thank you.
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