On Nov. 12, 2013, a blog called Mr. Conservative posted an alarming headline -- especially so given that it was just one day after the Veterans’ Day holiday.
The story, which was forwarded to us by a reader, was headlined: "Obama Admin. Hands Out Pamphlet: 'What To Do When The Veteran In Your Classroom Attempts A Mass Shooting.'"
The story went on to say that "veterans all across the country are upset" with the Education Department-issued pamphlet. Veterans, the site said, "are taking the stance that this makes it look like ‘all veterans are PTSD-crazed cauldrons of rage.’ "
The Education Department’s defense, according to the post, was that there were already other pamphlets "like ‘What To Do When The Hispanic In Your Classroom Attempts A Mass Shooting,’ ‘What To Do When The Gay Student In Your Classroom Attempts A Mass Shooting,’ and ‘What To Do When The Special-Needs Child In Your Classroom Attempts A Mass Shooting.’"
The article quoted an unnamed representative of the Veterans of Foreign Wars calling the pamphlets "incredibly frustrating" and saying they offered "several asinine recommendations."
"I am ashamed that we are demeaning my fellow veterans in this manner. It seems to be part of Obama's grand scheme to diminish the military," said one. Said another, "What is it going to take to get this guy impeached??? If he doesn't get impeached, nobody will." Other commenters called Obama a "disgusting pig" or worse.
But a few Mr. Conservative commenters wondered whether it was a spoof, and it turns out that they were on to something. It was actually a piece of satire -- one that Mr. Conservative posted without labeling it as such.
Though Mr. Conservative didn’t cite the original source or link to it, some quick Googling enabled us to find the source easily -- a website called the Duffel Blog, which is a satire site aimed at members of the military. Here’s the disclaimer posted on the Duffel Blog’s "About" page:
"We are in no way, shape, or form, a real news outlet. Everything on this website is satirical and the content of this site is a parody of a news organization. No composition should be regarded as truthful, and no reference of an individual, company, or military unit seeks to inflict malice or emotional harm. All characters, groups, and military units appearing in these works are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or actual military units and companies is purely coincidental."
Indeed, a cursory glance at the Duffel Blog front page on Nov. 12 suggests that a visitor probably would have been able to figure that out on their own. The headlines included, "Pentagon Proposes New Antarctica Command," "Applebee’s Declares Bankruptcy After Offering Free Alcohol For Veterans Day," and "Paperwork Error Sends Marines To Guard Streets Of Hell" (the last one was datelined, "The Pearly Gates of Heaven").
Just to be sure, we also asked the Education Department, and a spokesman said the pamphlet "is obviously not ours."
An inquiry sent through Mr. Conservative’s website was not answered, and as of publication time, the site had neither taken down the story nor labeled it as satire.
The Duffel Blog’s founder, former Marine Sgt. Paul Szoldra, did not respond to a request, but in 2012, he told Columbia Journalism Review, "I think you have to have a dark sense of humor just to survive. "It’s a way of coping with things beyond your control. Telling jokes or laughing about things you wouldn’t normally laugh at, especially in a combat situation, helps you cope with that kind of stress."
The website Mr. Conservative posted an article that claimed the Obama administration was handing out a pamphlet titled, "What To Do When The Veteran In Your Classroom Attempts A Mass Shooting." The story originated on a satire site and was in no way real -- a truth that could have been easily discovered through a few clicks on the Internet. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.
Editor's note: A few hours after our initial publication, Mr. Conservative appended an update to its post: "Since the original posting of this article, we learned that the original news source that posted this story was not an actual news site but a satirical site. However, the fact that this story is believable, on its face, says something about our government and the society in which we now live."