The Common Good

The Rush Limbaugh April Fools' Response

April 1 was quite the roller coaster for me. First of all, I'm already in a good mood because it's my sister's birthday (no kidding). Second of all, I'm giddy from splicing together Rush Limbaugh's CPAC speech into an April Fools' version of something that he might say to the Mobilization to End Poverty if he had a political Damascus road conversion. In trepidation, we run it by Jim Wallis for final approval--he loves it.

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So far so good. Then we launch the first wave of SojoMail--I've broken it into segments so all the traffic of people clicking to watch the video post doesn't hit our blog server all at once. No dice. The initial wave of traffic crashes the server. Everyone's going crazy because we're getting all this traffic (good thing), but it's crashing the server (very bad thing).

Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are abuzz with comments about the video--almost universally positive or just sharing the link. Some examples of our Twitter comments:

just read an email update from sojourners announcing rush limbaugh had joined the cause...then I remembered what day it is

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Great AF joke from Sojourners and Jim Wallis: video of Rush Limbaugh joining Sojo's campaign to end poverty

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I love the part about him grabbing his "trusty KJV" and opening it at random. Love Sojourners!

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you guys (and gals) are having way too much fun today... back to work! LOL...hysterically!

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BEST APRIL FOOLS EVER

But then, replies to SojoMail start arriving by e-mail. The breakdown: 50 percent negative, 20 percent positive, 30 percent don't realize or aren't sure that it's a joke. The negative e-mails fell into several general threads, with some overlap. First were people who like Sojourners, but think we should stay out of the humor business:

If and when I want to read cynical comments and sarcastic humour, I'd go to the Onion. I do not choose to read Sojourners for that. I choose Sojourners to get a message of hope, sometimes, tough love and to read usually uplifting and always important articles which balance my daily NYT et al diet. ... It's not that the issue of poverty can't be funny. Even Jesus got off a zinger about rich men, camels and the eye of a needle. Limbaugh's brand of hatred and bigotry needs to be confornted more directly.

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...bipartisanship, especially on how to end poverty, is not a joking matter and should never take a break, not even a 24 hour break on April 1.

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I don't read you for humor. I read you for positive, balanced, hopeful, important, value-infused news, damn it

Fair enough. We'll just have to agree to disagree about that. God forbid that Sojourners should be required to be as deadly serious as the majority of the issues we cover most of the time. Also, we'd have to fire Ed Spivey Jr. Besides, if NPR can do it, why can't we?

The other thread of response revealed that our prank manipulated the emotions of folks wanting it to be true. For example:

I suppose that I could be called naive for believing the email you sent out, but I believe I must not have been alone in my naivety. ... I was so happy at what I read (of course, at first), that I was nearly moved to worship. Then I realized that the update was an April Fools' joke. While I believe that a person should take all things with a grain of salt, so to speak, I feel that the update you sent out was cruel (at least for the potentially few of us who believed it).

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I read this article about Rush Limbaugh with tears in my eyes and resurgent hope that "God is still speaking," ... I was about to forward this to our church email list, thinking what Good News we had been given on the verge of Holy Week and Easter. And then I got to the "April Fools" punch line. I think this was a horrible, ugly joke that demeaned all of us who have true hope for a better day in America, who have supported the hopeful leadership of our new president, and who even hope that the Rush Limbaughs of this world may be transformed by the Spirit among us. Shame on you, Sojourners. I expect much better.

Wow. The last thing we wanted to do was cruelly manipulate readers' emotions. But I agree with the earlier comment that even Jesus joked about the eternal status of rich folks, their camels, and the eyes of needles. But I'll admit that at least one mistake was assuming that the joke would be obvious from the start. And then there were those who felt we were being unfair to Rush:

The e-mail blast today, though, with its searing criticism of Rush Limbaugh, Kenneth Copeland, and Vice President Joe Biden, really crossed the line for me, though. I appreciate irony, yet I found the humor a bit biting against certain personalities. If you are going to have such a bias against certain people, I don't know if I can continue to read Sojourners' e-mails. I thought you were going to try to be bipartisan, in spite of the fact that your e-mails often seem to favor Democrats. We don't need more division in these days.

To which I humbly respond that our April Fools' humor poked fun at all sides of the political and theological spectrum. As this note even mentions, in addition to Limbaugh, we spoofed Vice President Biden, and I would also add, we did a satire of President Obama's arts of persuasion, and even posted a photo of our own Jim Wallis in handcuffs for alleged steroid use.

And then, finally, there were the folks that just never noticed that it was a joke:

... why, why, why would you cheapen your good name and give individuals such as myself good reason to leave the fold? This was not an inadvertent mistake. You cannot accidentally invite the most controversial far right commentator in the country to keynote an issue that he has so often demeaned.

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I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE INVITED LIMBAUGH TO SPEAK! HE IS AN ARROGANT AS [sic], AND EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE ASKED THE FAT JERK TO SPEAK, YOU WILL SEE THAT HE'S NOT IN FAVOR OF AN END TO POVERTY. DUMB, DUMB MOVE.

Of course, there's always the possiblity that some of these folks are re-pranking us by pretending to be mad.

But I doubt it.

So this sets up a question in my mind: Is there anything we could have done differently so that everyone could enjoy a good laugh on April Fools' Day? Given these responses, I might have done a few things differently--like try to make it really obvious it was a joke without completely blowing the punchline. But I still doubt we'd be able to get a good belly laugh out of everybody. So in all modesty, though I still think the video is hilarious, these responses were rather sobering. They did give me fresh insight into the limits of electronic communications and the dangers of making assumptions about your audience, magnifying the biblical warning:

For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue-a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:2-8)

Given James' warning about the power of the tongue, it's ironic then that like most people, I find it easier to control my tongue when talking face to face than I do when sending an e-mail or leaving a comment on a Web site. Which is why I do my best not to take myself too seriously.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners.

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