Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon: Satire and Reality Are Becoming Indistinguishable

June 30, 2022 Updated: July 17, 2022

“There’s no bigger sign of insecurity in your ideas and your values and your positions [than] if you’re saying, look, they’re off-limits. … You can’t oppose them, and you can’t joke about them.”

I sit down with Seth Dillon, CEO of the satire website The Babylon Bee.

“We’re kind of on this fast track towards insanity.”

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Jan Jekielek: Seth Dillon, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Seth Dillon: Pleasure to be here.

Mr. Jekielek: Why don’t we start with these wonderful comedy pieces you guys do on YouTube. You recently did one where the spelling bee contestant asks for the definition of a woman.

[sound bite/Judge 2]: Your word is woman.

[sound bite/Lincoln]: Can I have the definition, please?

[sound bite/Judge 2]: Why don’t you ask judge one that question?

[sound bite/Lincoln]: Can I have the definition of woman, please?

[sound bite/Judge 1]: No.

Mr. Jekielek: Why is this so funny?

Mr. Dillon: Why is it funny? Well, to some extent humor is subjective. Different people, depending on their worldview and how it’s shaped, will find different things funny. This is funny. By the way, a lot of people on the Left certainly wouldn’t find this funny, they’re the butt of the joke here. The reason it’s funny is because it’s highlighting an absurdity, an extreme example of absurdity. When you play it out, what a sketch like this allows you to do is take the absurd position that someone holds and then put it into a practical context, an everyday context and a context where it’s exposed for how absurd it really is—this idea that we can’t define what a woman is. A Supreme Court nominee is asked the question, “What is a woman?” Her retort is, “I’m not a biologist. Don’t ask me. How would I know?” She is a woman, and she’s kicking the can down the road to someone else. It is incredibly absurd that we’ve lost sight of what the meaning of these fundamental words is.

Mr. Jekielek: Let me comment on the Supreme Court Justice saying she’s not going to define what is a woman. That was an astute political move of sorts, because if she had, there’s no way to answer the question. This is the thing that was bizarre. There’s no way for her to answer the question that doesn’t upset a whole bunch of people.

Mr. Dillon: Correct, although even the way she answered it wasn’t really safe for who she’s trying to keep happy, because she said, “I’m not a biologist.” Well then, what’s a biologist got to say about it? As far as this new gender ideology goes, your sex and your biological makeup has nothing to do with your gender at all. She was asked, “What is a woman,” which is a gender term, and she went back to biology. But that’s what the conservative side will say, that your gender is tied to your sex. She actually gave a nod to the conservative position on that one.

Mr. Jekielek: At one point and you decided to buy the Babylon Bee. So, where do you come from? How did you get interested in doing this? Buying a Christian comedy website obviously isn’t the best investment. Please tell me about this.

Mr. Dillon: No, it’s obviously not the best investment for most people. Although, when I did make an offer on it, Adam Ford was already under contract to sell to someone else. There was intense interest in the Bee. When I took it over in 2018, the Bee was skyrocketing in terms of its popularity, and its growth. It was getting millions of eyeballs on the website. It was filling a void and becoming popular among people on the Right and in the Christian community. I was raised in a Christian home. My dad was a pastor. I grew up in the church and I started seeing Bee headlines really early on, because they were circulating a lot in church circles on Facebook and Twitter. They were these church jokes, jokes about worship pastors wearing skinny jeans and stuff like that.

They were silly inside jokes that people in the church would know, and a lot of it was self-deprecating humor. It was really refreshing to see these Christians running this comedy site and making fun of themselves. It was appealing to me on a personal level, because of my background, and also because I love humor. I love satire and I love how effective it is. I thought to myself, with my knowledge of media and marketing, and with great content like this, maybe I could help take this thing to the next level and really grow it. So, for the last four or five years since I got involved, that’s been my mission.

Mr. Jekielek: How has it played out?

Mr. Dillon: Incredibly well. I would say there have been setbacks and roadblocks, but we have dramatically grown this business. We are now doing tens of millions of page views monthly. We generate revenue from a variety of sources. When it first started, it was a WordPress blog that drove most of its traffic through Facebook, and had Google ads on the website. Now, we have subscriptions, we have a store, we sell books. We also have ad revenue that we generate from direct sponsorships with our sponsors or the regular ad networks. So, there’s a diverse stream of revenue now. It’s a real business, it really is.

Mr. Jekielek: Let’s quickly talk about some of these setbacks along the way. At The Epoch Times, we had this situation where we had 40 million followers on Facebook, but they’re worth very, very little right now. How did you bounce back from that? This is just one platform, but as everybody knows, there have been multiple setbacks on several platforms.

Mr. Dillon: We managed to offset a lot of the losses and traffic from being off Twitter and being severely throttled on Facebook. We’re not alone in that. Obviously, you guys are experiencing that too. We have offset a lot of it. We would be much further along if we still had that kind of reach. Two years ago, back in 2020, we were doing about 90,000 shares per article on average, and that was because some of our articles would go viral. We did one about how a motorcyclist identifies as a bicyclist and set a world record. That got 8 million shares.

If we still had the kind of virality and the kind of reach we had before being throttled so badly, we would be a lot further along as a business. We’ve offset some of those losses and generated some direct traffic. We are trying to own our audience more, building up our subscription platform and our newsletter list. But it’s still a hit in terms of where we should be, versus where we actually are.

Mr. Jekielek: Sure, but from what I can tell, at least by some measures, you’re doing better than The Onion. That was the definitive satire site, at one point anyway.

Mr. Dillon: Ultimately what it comes down to is the content itself. It’s what people want, and people are seeking it out. Even if they can’t get it on Twitter anymore, they’re still finding a way to get to our website and share it among their friends. Comedy that pushes back and is willing to make jokes that you’re not supposed to make is really refreshing right now. You see it all the time with these comedians, the Dave Chappelles of the world who they’re trying to cancel. They’re more popular now than ever. And, I think that’s part of the problem. The reason The Onion is falling in popularity and we’re rising in popularity is because the job of the comedian or the satirist or the humorist is really not to promote a narrative. It is to take shots at whatever the prevailing narrative of the day is, and try to poke holes in it and tear it down and subvert it.

The comedians who do that are going to be the ones that audiences are really hungry for, rather than the ones who are just propping up the narrative and promoting it and preaching to their audiences. They are not really trying to make fun of the powers that be, and make the audience laugh about the powers that be. For this reason we’re in a position where we’re on the rise.

Mr. Jekielek: So, you’re taking the role of the court jester.

Mr. Dillon: Yes, we are trying to. We’re accused of punching down, but actually we’re punching up.

Mr. Jekielek: Please explain that to me.

Mr. Dillon: Punching down is a derogatory term to describe jokes made at the expense of people who have less power than you, and that would be somebody who’s beneath you on this power chart. The idea is that there are marginalized and oppressed people and there are privileged people. Wherever you fall in that vertical spectrum, there are people who are underneath you, and there are people who are above you. But what they’re trying to do in the media—and the Big Tech companies are even baking this into their terms of service—is to hold comedians accountable for making jokes at the expense of people they shouldn’t, and who have less power than them. It’s the most absurd thing in the world that when writing a joke you have to have the mindset to stop yourself and think, “You know what, I can’t joke about those people, they’re beneath me.”

That’s just a ridiculous, condescending thought to have. You shouldn’t be held back from joking about someone because you consider them beneath you. That’s actually an arrogant thing to think. We should be able to joke about each other indiscriminately. So this idea of punching down is a projection thing from the Left. The truth is that comedians like us who are taking shots at or trying to poke holes in the popular narrative are in fact punching up. Although they will say we’re making fun of a marginalized community when we make a joke like we did, where we named Rachel Levine as our Man of the Year, instead of Woman of the Year, which is what USA Today did. When we make a joke like that, they consider that punching down, because we’re joking about someone who’s in a protected category that you’re not supposed to make fun of.

For one thing, this is a white, male, high ranking government official. This is an idea that’s being foisted on us from the top down. It’s a popular narrative that’s going around in all of the most powerful institutions in our nation. To make fun of that can’t be punching down, it can’t be. When that’s the prevailing narrative, when that’s what they want you to talk about and promote, the job of the jester is to make fun of that. We have a responsibility to make fun of that. So, to be told that we’re punching down, actually we’re punching back, or we’re punching up, we’re not punching down.

Mr. Jekielek: The crux of their idea here is basically you don’t want to hurt people. Why are you hurting people’s feelings?

Mr. Dillon: Jokes are offensive. It’s a healthy exercise. It’s a real sign of not just mental, but also spiritual immaturity to be incapable and unwilling to examine yourself and laugh at yourself. People are sitting in the audience at a comedy show and the comedian pokes fun at them for being bald or fat or whatever it is that he’s making a joke about. It may be about their appearance and at their expense. It’s something that’s really offensive, and typically they’ll laugh. A healthy person laughs in that scenario. They’re saying, “Look, I’m being picked on here, but it’s all in good fun, and it’s good-natured.” The intent is just to make people laugh. It’s not to be cruel. I think there’s a couple of ways of looking at that too.

When we talk about the gender stuff and the jokes that we made that got us put in Twitter jail, you could easily make an argument that it’s cruel not to push back on these things. Ideas need to be ridiculed, because they can have harmful effects on our society, especially on young people who are impressionable. They don’t have the philosophical foundation or the theological framework to combat these ideas that are really detrimental to them personally if they ingest them and try to live them out in their lives. Pushing back means ridiculing bad ideas that can have harmful effects in society. You can call it cruel because it hurts somebody’s feelings, but I think that it’s actually a safeguard against insanity, which is more harmful.

Mr. Jekielek: It is this Rachel Levine, Man of the Year satire that you’re in Twitter jail for. Why is this the hill to die on? Because basically you said that you are not going to remove it. If I understand correctly how Twitter works, all you would have to do is delete it.

Mr. Dillon: I could delete it right now as we are sitting here.

Mr. Jekielek: And they would reactivate your account. Why not?

Mr. Dillon: I don’t want to die on any hills if I can avoid it. Why is this the hill to die on? For one thing, I would pose a question in response. When Twitter says, “ All you have to do is delete this and you can get back on the platform.” I would ask, “Why are you making us delete it?” If they have a problem with a joke, if they don’t like the joke, and they think that it violates their hateful conduct policy—even though I would dispute that it does—they could take it down themselves. They require us to acknowledge that we engaged in hateful conduct if we delete it. You’re agreeing to that when you delete it. It’s not just a matter of, “Oh, delete the joke.” They’re saying, “When you delete this joke, you are acknowledging that you engaged in hateful conduct.”

That’s why we’re not doing it. I don’t think that it’s necessary for us to do that. They could take it down themselves. It’s an issue of great societal and philosophical importance that you be able to speak the truth. Now, this is satire, so when I say speak the truth, that confuses people sometimes. Was our joke true? No, it’s a fabricated story. We don’t actually name anyone Man of the Year, but there’s an underlying truth that we’re getting at and that we’re trying to speak. I think it’s a very basic truth. There are men and there are women, and they can’t go back and forth or choose which one they are. You are who God made you to be. A lot of us would say that that’s a fundamental truth, not just from a theological framework, but it’s also a biological reality.

This is reality. We should be able to say what is true. We’re getting to the point where someone is insisting that two and two make five and not four, and getting to this place where is no joking about it. You are compelled to say what we want you to say or you have remain silent and censor yourself. When we’ve reached that point, that’s a hill worth dying on. I don’t want to die on a hill, but if I have to pick one, that’s one worth dying on.

Mr. Jekielek: We ran into each other at an event not too long ago, and you were giving a presentation. You had some really funny observations that you pulled from the Bee headlines that were actually satire, but then actually ended up coming true. One of the more banal ones was, “Pants sales plummet as everyone works from home.”

Mr. Dillon: A COVID joke.

Mr. Jekielek: COVID jokes. Here is another one, “Progressive church announces new drag queen Bible story hour.”

Mr. Dillon: That came true. That’s an example of one that came true. We make the joke, and then later on there’s a real headline where there is a church doing a drag queen story hour for children, not adults, by the way, but for children. There’s this weird thing happening where it’s becoming difficult for us to make absurd jokes that don’t eventually come true, because we’re kind of on this fast track towards insanity, I would say. At the beginning of that talk, I quoted G. K. Chesterton, who said that the world has become too absurd to be satirized. He said that in 1911. If he was here today and seeing the kind of stuff that we’re seeing today, I can only imagine what he would say.

That’s an understatement. If it was applicable back then, it’s certainly much more applicable today. It validates the comedian who is making these jokes. This happens a lot with The Simpsons, and South Park. They will foretell the future by offering up these absurd scenarios that actually come to fruition. It’s not that satire is too close to reality, the problem is that reality is bumping up against satire. We’re struggling to stay ahead of it and do things that are funnier than what people in real life are actually doing.

Mr. Jekielek: You’ve  actually been quite vocal on this specific issue of the drag queen story hour and the sexualization of children. Why is this so important?

Mr. Dillon: I would ask, why isn’t it important to more people? It should be important to people. Again, what if we transplanted Chesterton from 1911 to today and he saw the kind of stuff that we’re exposing children to, and he saw people trying to defend it? There are so many people defending this kind of stuff. People ask me, “Why is this their hill to die on?”  In general, most parents aren’t happy about this stuff. They don’t want their kids exposed to this stuff. There’s a moral obligation you have as a parent to insulate your children as much as you can from things that would corrupt their innocence. You certainly don’t want to be exposing them to it or indoctrinating them or trying to normalize behavior that is lewd or indecent.

So, I would wonder why there are so many people who are willing to make it their hill to die on. They want to push this. Equal rights is one thing, if you want to have a conversation about equal rights under the law. But to engage kids and to do things that would sexualize or groom or otherwise corrupt innocent children and make them into something that you’re aggressively pushing for is just mind blowing to me. There’s so many people willing to do that and they are defending it. Why is that their hill to die on? How does a drag queen do anything but distract from story time? If you’re going to do something that’s supposed to be educational or interesting for children, have an astronaut come and read a story about space or somebody else that’s a healthy role model for children. A drag queen is someone who dresses up as someone of the opposite sex and dances provocatively for cash tips like a stripper. This is not appropriate content for children.

There’s plenty of ways to stir the imagination of children. With the drag queen story hour, people are pretty open about their motivations and their purpose. Their mission is to stir up the queer imagination in children. I just don’t see how that’s a necessary or good component of educating and entertaining children in preschool, kindergarten, or early grade school. I don’t understand why there is not more resistance to it.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s a curious sort of logic and woke ideology where once a topic gets enough coverage, it gets to a certain point there’s no going back from it. There’s a doubling down and I’ve seen this with multiple topics, but this is perhaps the most recent one.

Mr. Dillon: I think that happens.

Mr. Jekielek: You’ve been showcasing people very deep into woke ideology, notably teachers and Libs of TikTok. You decided to come out and support the efforts of this account, Libs of TikTok. Please tell me about this. Is this the same motivation as the Bee? Or is it yet another shrewd business decision by Seth Dillon?

Mr. Dillon: I think that it’s different. There’s been some misreporting that the Babylon Bee invested in Libs of TikTok. The Babylon Bee has nothing to do with it. Any involvement that I have for funding or investment as an individual has nothing to do with the Babylon Bee, even though I run the Babylon Bee. So, the Bee did not buy and is not running Libs of TikTok. They are not satire. It’s a totally different enterprise. What Libs of TikTok is doing is important journalistic work that a lot of journalists are neglecting. That’s the story. There’s real content out there that’s being posted by real people. It’s not made up, and it isn’t fabricated. These are people who are going online and bragging about what they’re teaching their students in the classroom. It’s people who are exposing what’s actually being taught in the classroom by taking pictures of these assignments that are being sent home.

We did one recently on kindergartners that were sent home with a masturbation assignment— kindergartners. I think that’s newsworthy. Parents need to understand what’s going on in the schools, and Libs of TikTok is exposing this stuff. A lot of people are grateful for it, saying that they’re doing a service. Of course, they’re also being attacked for targeting oppressed and marginalized people for harassment. Look, we don’t care about the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person who’s doing this stuff. It’s the behavior that’s morally objectionable.That is what’s being highlighted, regardless of who’s engaged in it. Libs of TikTok is doing an excellent job at exposing a lot of that stuff. It is valuable and important and effective, and that’s the reason that they’re trying to shut it down.

Mr. Jekielek: Years ago, we always had a week long training with a bunch of people, and one night we had a costume party. It was a very secular crowd. One of the people dressed up as a kind of goofy Christian pastor, but in a cruel way. Everyone thought it was incredibly funny. But I found myself thinking what if this was a group of Christians? Would this actually be that funny? You mentioned earlier how different groupings will find different things funny. Are there limits to comedy? Even on the Babylon Bee there are certain things that secular people on the Left might find incredibly funny that you probably wouldn’t.

Mr. Dillon: There’s a ton of examples. Earlier, I mentioned The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy. They are satirical and funny and don’t hesitate at all to make fun of Christians. The Reverend in The Simpsons is an idiot. He’s immoral, and he’s just a terrible person. Actually, the dad in the show is too. But there is no hesitation to go after those targets. Generally, Christians on the Right have been pretty tolerant of jokes at their expense. This is where the word tolerance gets so distorted. To tolerate something is to bear with it, even though you don’t like it. You’re willing to allow it to happen, you’re not putting a stop to it, but you’re not affirming it either.

You’re not loving it, and you’re not necessarily thinking that it’s good. But you’re tolerating it, and you’re bearing with it. That’s come to mean something very different now. There is no tolerance on the Left for jokes about their sacred cows. So, there needs to be a two-way street where the jokes are allowed to flow in both directions, because they’re very vicious in their humor about conservatives and Christians. They’re willing to dish it, but they can’t take it, not that comedy should be cruel.

Bill Maher, when he came to the defense of the Bee, said, “There is this Christian satire site.” He’s like, “What even is that? I thought that religion itself was satire.” He got a lot of laughs from his crowd, calling Christianity satire. That was a funny joke. It was his best joke of that segment, and it’s at our expense, but it’s still funny, and it’s funny for his audience. He’s entitled to make jokes like that, but the other side should be too. We should be willing to joke about each other and laugh at ourselves.

Mr. Jekielek: He did dish some out in the other direction, which wasn’t taken very well.

Mr. Dillon: No, it wasn’t. That was his more serious commentary. His joke was at our expense, and then he gave really serious commentary at their expense, saying that this free speech thing is a big issue. He’s standing by it. There needs to be people on the Left who are willing to say, “Look, you can joke about us, you should be able to joke about us.” There’s no bigger sign of insecurity about your ideas and your values and your positions if you’re saying, “Look, they’re off limits. You can’t joke about them. You can’t oppose them and you can’t joke about them.” They would be better served to say, “Bring it on, make fun of us if you want to. We’ll see how it stands up to mockery and ridicule.”

Mr. Jekielek: A lot of people know that the three top guys at the Bee sat down with Elon Musk for a very interesting interview. It’s very interesting to hear his commentary about wokeness. It fits so well into what we’re discussing. He said something like, “Wokeness is a shield that mean people use to be cruel, covered in false virtue.” That’s not his exact words, but something very close to that. He had a few one liners like that. Everyone’s struggling to define this. Do you think this is why he became interested in the Bee, because of your ability to satirize what is not allowed?

Mr. Dillon: Yes, honestly, I do. Wokeness came up in the context of him talking about how it’s one of the most serious threats we face as a society right now. He said it was harmful. I asked him, “What do you think is so harmful about it?” He said, “It’s divisive, it’s exclusionary, and it’s hateful. It gives mean people an excuse to be cruel, all the while mired in false virtue.” He asked us what we thought and we were all just nodding along, “Yes, he gets it and he understands how important this is.” The reason that he’s interested in taking over Twitter is because wokeness is a lot of the driving force behind compelling certain speech, and pressuring people to censor themselves.

Otherwise, they’ll be canceled and de-platformed. He sees free speech as being vital for the health of a society. In the modern town square, in the modern digital age, which is the Big Tech of Twitter or Facebook, if you don’t have free speech on these platforms, then you just don’t have it in the modern digital world. So, he’s willing to say, “Look, this is going to cost me a lot of money. It may never make me a dime, but I’m in this position. I consider myself a free speech absolutist. You should be able to say objectionable things. That is good for society. I’m in a position to step in and do something about this and take over this platform and make sure that it adheres to the basic idea that free speech should exist and be allowed to flourish, even if offensive things are said.”

He’s willing to do that, even if it costs him a lot of money and doesn’t make him a cent. That’s what he says anyway, and that’s very, very admirable. So, it was really cool to sit with him and hear what he thinks about those things, and why he sees it as being so important. In terms of the value of the Bee in that conversation, we mock these bad ideas for what they are, and I think he appreciates that.

Mr. Jekielek: I made a note here, and I can’t remember whether it’s you saying it or him saying it, that wokeness wants to make humor illegal.

Mr. Dillon: He said that. It really does. Let’s talk about Twitter, because that’s where we’ve been locked out recently. Twitter’s mission statement, in their own words, is to provide a platform for free expression without barriers. That’s their mission, that’s why they exist, a platform for free expression without barriers. To this day, that’s on their website. So, if you go to their hateful conduct policy, which is the one that we apparently violated, they reiterate that mission statement at the top of the hateful comment policy. But then you scroll a little further down the page and they say, “You’re not allowed to dead name or misgender.” 

Their wokeness, and their radical, progressive gender ideology is written into their terms. You either have to affirm it or refrain from speaking altogether. Yet, in the paragraph just above that, they say that they are a platform for free expression with no barriers. So, it’s a doublethink thing. On one hand, they’re saying we’re a platform for free expression. On the other hand, they’re saying, but only certain expression. What they’re trying to do is bake this into the terms, so that they can use euphemisms like content moderation or misinformation. 

They can just say, “We’re just engaging in content moderation to keep hate speech and indecent content off our platform.” No, they’re enforcing woke ideology as being the only thing that one can express or defend on this platform, and they’re doing it in these roundabout ways. So, illegal or not, it’s not permissible to push up against their woke ideology in the public square. Musk isn’t going to the legislature and trying to change the laws. He’s trying to take over the town square itself and say, “This is a privately run company.” He thinks someone who loves and values free speech should be the one running it.

Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about misinformation and fact checking. You pointed out this piece to me, which I actually couldn’t believe was true, but it turned out to be true. “CNN purchases industrial-sized washing machine to spin news before publication.” Apparently, a lot of people took this seriously and it required numerous fact checks.

Mr. Dillon: No, they didn’t. I don’t believe that anyone took that seriously.

Mr. Jekielek: So, why did you think it needed to be flagged for misinformation and fact checked?

Mr. Dillon: I asked Snopes that question, because Snopes is the one who originally fact checked it. At the time, they were a fact checking partner with Facebook, and Facebook was threatening to kick us off because of that joke. I asked them, “Why did you fact check this one?” They didn’t mention this one in particular, they just said, “In general, the reason that we fact check articles is because we get a lot of reports from people who are asking us, is this true? A lot of people are reporting it as fake or false.” I said, “Show me one person who emailed you and said, ‘Is this true? Did this really happen? Are they spinning the news inside a washing machine and then reporting it once it comes out because it’s been spun on a spin cycle?’ Was there one person?”

Then, they stopped replying to me. So, I don’t believe that anyone actually thought that was true. I’m not exactly sure why they pick the targets they pick, because they could pick some jokes that were a little more believable. That one is just kind of absurd on its face. It’s obviously absurdist humor, so picking ones that would be a little more believable would help their cause. They just look ridiculous by fact checking these jokes. Giving a joke like that a truth rating is just silly.

Mr. Jekielek: But, fact checking has become ubiquitous. This piece is from 2018, now it’s four years later. Fact checking is alive and well, alive and kicking, and decreeing what is true and what is false.  In many cases egregiously false things are marked as true, and vice versa.

Mr. Dillon: Yes.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s almost poetic that this would be one of the articles that is fact checked.

Mr. Dillon: That is funny. One of the more comical ones was where we did a joke about how Trump had claimed to have done more for Christianity than Jesus. That was just a joke about Trump’s ego, because he says these outlandish things. That one got fact checked and rated false. But then, you fast forward a couple years, and he actually goes on a radio show and says that he’s done more for Christianity and religion in general than any other person in history. So, he basically said what we had jokingly said that he said, and it got rated false. Then, he actually goes out and says it. So, it’s funny how this stuff works. The fact is, there are fact checkers checking jokes and rating satire false, rather than just saying it’s a joke.

The issue that we’ve had with the fact checkers is that if they had just looked at our pieces and said, “This is a viral piece of content. You may have seen it going around. This is satire. Laugh. It’s satire.” That would not have been detrimental to our business. The problem was that they were out there saying, “These guys have managed to pull off these tricks before. They’re duping you. They’re presenting you with fake news. They’re pretending to be satirists, but they’re really deceivers, and it’s a hub for disinformation.” Snopes was doing that kind of stuff, and the media was doing that kind of stuff. The New York Times called us a far-Right misinformation site that traffics in misinformation under the guise of satire, and it’s ominous what we’re doing. That’s just totally baseless. They’re just making up motives for what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and then judging what’s in our hearts. They never even reached out to us to ask us a question. What was your intent with this, by the way?

And, they didn’t need to. We’re obviously set up as a satire publication. We call ourselves fake news you can trust. So, there’s no question in their mind that we are legitimately satire. But they use the fact checking as an excuse to vilify us as being out there trying to mislead the public, and that’s just ridiculous. In defense of believable satire—jokes need to be believable to be funny. They have to be tethered to the truth, and they have to be rooted in reality to be funny. If reality is catching up to your jokes and it’s indistinguishable from your jokes, that’s an indictment of reality, not the satirist.

Mr. Jekielek: Something just struck me about the piece about Trump having done more for Christianity than Jesus, I expect for a brief moment you became incredibly popular across the board.

Mr. Dillon: Yes, with a joke like that, yes. We reached the other side. People on the Left thought that was true by the way. That was one they thought was true and it was believable. It was a believable headline. The proof that it’s believable is that he actually went and said it a couple years later. I think that validates the joke. It was a good joke.

Mr. Jekielek: Where do you see things going? Babylon Bee has, in a way, almost become a kind of activist site, or at least people have described it that way. You’re no longer purely a satire site. Do you see yourself that way?

Mr. Dillon: That was never the goal. The goal with the Bee was to make people laugh and to make them think a little bit, to be subversive in the way that satire is supposed to be subversive, and to poke holes in the popular narrative, like I said before. That was always the goal. The goal wasn’t to be on the front lines of some kind of big battle. That fight came to us just because we couldn’t even make this stuff up. We didn’t expect that our jokes would have a truth rating. We didn’t expect that so many of them would come true. We didn’t expect that we would be slandered and defamed for doing hate speech under the guise of satire, but here we are. We became popular and then we got all these attacks, and then we have to respond to them.

So, we’ve become this example. One of the reasons we’re so prominent as an example of censorship and why people want to hear from us, and why we talk to the media so much, is because it’s just so ridiculous that this is the approach to satire. These are jokes, and this is comedy. The way that they’ve handled our jokes, and the way that they’ve handled our comedy is so over the top. It’s so absurd and ridiculous that we’re finding ourselves in a position where we’re defending ourselves against this stuff, when all we’re trying to do is be funny on the internet, and make jokes on the internet.

We did not expect and didn’t ask for this fight battling for the preservation of freedom and the restoration of sanity, but here we are. We think it’s a fight worth fighting. Rationality itself is under attack. It’s not just free speech. There are people who have abandoned rationality on purpose and are trying to get you to go along with agreeing with them that two and two make five. I said before that this is a hill worth dying on. It’s something that’s worth not just joking about, we need to mock them. We’ll mock them all day long while we can, but it’s worth getting serious about it too.

Mr. Jekielek: Babylon Bee submitted an amicus brief to one of the lawsuits against Big Tech.  How you think these platforms should be treated?

Mr. Dillon: The problem is, as Musk recognizes, these platforms have become the town square of the digital age. So, this is where the vast majority of public discourse takes place. It’s not just between private citizens, but between government officials and private citizens. If the First Amendment means anything, if we do have a right to freely express ourselves, then it has to apply to the public square, wherever that is. And if it’s not in the physical town square anymore, and it’s in the digital town square, then it needs to be preserved there. So the question is, how do we accomplish that if these are privately owned companies that can do whatever they want? Because that’s what we’re told, they’re privately owned and they can do whatever they want. I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case. 

The common carrier doctrine is interesting, because it’s an example of government regulation or involvement in privately owned businesses like telecommunications companies, for example, or railroads or utilities. It doesn’t bump up against First Amendment issues where their rights are being infringed upon. There’s a public interest in making sure that everybody’s accommodated on those platforms, that you can’t lose access to your phone line because of who you voted for, or what race you are, or what your religion is. Preventing discrimination has been in the interest of the government for a long time. There have been a lot of laws around preventing it. I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to ask or require that we have something change that preserves speech on these platforms by preventing the kind of viewpoint discrimination that we’re seeing.

This is not merely innocuous content moderation where they’re saying, “This is lewd or indecent content. We’re taking it down because it’s not appropriate in the public square.” It’s not inappropriate in the way that sex or nudity in public would be indecent. It’s viewpoint discrimination under the guise of benign content moderation. That is abundantly clear. A lot of people see that. The question is, what’s the solution? So, common carrier doctrine being applied is a possible solution. It could just be a situation where you tweak Section 230 a little bit.

Section 230 is in the Communications Decency Act where immunity is given to these platforms for the moderation that they do. If you condition that immunity on something like viewpoint neutrality, then you’re getting somewhere. Giving the immunity is a benefit. You’re not punishing them in any way. You reserve that benefit of immunity for people who actually refuse to discriminate and allow for open speech on their platforms. And so, we have been supportive of some of the state laws that have been passed that have tried to aim at making sure that viewpoint discrimination is not allowed.

Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned Elon Musk is a free speech absolutist. Are you a free speech absolutist?

Mr. Dillon: It depends on what you mean by that. You could mean different things by it. What Musk is going for, and I’ve seen him elaborate on this a couple of times—he’s talking about lawful speech. I would agree with that, because there’s certain things that you shouldn’t be permitted to say, like death threats for example, and purposefully inciting violence. That would not be considered lawful in the town square either. The First Amendment doesn’t protect all speech in the sense that you can just say certain things that are harmful.

Mr. Jekielek: Like shout, “Fire,” in a crowded theater.

Mr. Dillon: Yes. So, when you talk about absolutists, to what extreme do you take it? Musk’s position is that we should honor what’s lawful. You would still end up with a lot of nasty stuff that’s lawful on these platforms. The question is what do you do with that? There’s plenty of room for these platforms to moderate beyond what’s merely lawful, to keep the platform somewhat clean. For example, there could be lewd and indecent content that is lawful, but is inappropriate on the platform.

There’s space for that. It’s really an issue of viewpoint discrimination. That’s what it comes down to. If the question we’re talking about is, am I for the right of people who disagree with me to say things that I don’t like? Yes, I am for that. That is constitutionally protected, and I don’t just think that the law should compel that. Private companies themselves should have an interest in allowing that, especially if their mission statement is to provide a platform for free expression without barriers. If that’s your mission, then honor it.

Mr. Jekielek: Final thoughts?

Mr. Dillon: The most important role that we can all play in this is to refuse to censor ourselves. They rely so much on the pressure that is being applied, the fear of cancellation, the fear of losing your job, and the fear of getting canceled over your tweets. They apply that pressure to try to get you to stay in the box and not go outside into areas where you’re not supposed to say things that are going to make them uncomfortable or hurt their feelings. The best way to subvert that, the best way to push back on that is to speak the truth boldly and not censor yourself.

The way that I describe it is that you’re doing the tyrant’s work for him when you do that. They would have a lot less power than they do have if more people were willing to do that. The Bee has been willing to do that. We’ve been very bold about that. They’ve tried to kick us off and tell us that we engage in hateful conduct. We’re refusing to delete our tweet and go along with it, and hopefully we will embolden others to do the same.

Mr. Jekielek: Seth Dillon, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Mr. Dillon: Thank you for having me.

Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Seth Dillon CEO of Babylon Bee and I on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

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