Military satire news site manages to fool some people
By HOWARD ALTMAN | Tampa Tribune | Published: August 20, 2012
If you're surfing the Internet and happen to land on The Duffel Blog — it's at duffelblog.com — don't do what the folks at Gizmodo and Yell! did and believe anything you read.
That's because The Duffel Blog, the 5-month-old creation of University of Tampa senior and former Marine Sgt. Paul Szoldra, is a satire site, full of fake news about the military.
The stories — like "Chaos: General James Mattis Announced as Next Commandant of Marine Corps" (complete with an expertly Photoshopped picture of the U.S. Central Command chief with tatted-up arms) — are as outrageously funny as they are outrageously phony.
The site is so popular it's now getting a million page views a month, Szoldra said.
But every so often, someone is duped by the site, which dubs itself as "The American Military's Most Trusted News Source."
Take the case of the "Inverted Multi-Purpose Ballistic Tomahawk Bayonet."
Through the wonders of Photoshop, Szoldra fused an M-16 with a tomahawk and invented a replacement for the traditional bayonet stabbing weapon.
"It was the worst Photoshop ever done," Szoldra said.
But it was good enough to fool Gizmodo, a well-regarded tech journal, which posted a story of its own called "U.S. Army Changing Bayonets For Tomahawks" based on The Duffel Blog piece.
Not to be outdone, Yell! Magazine, created to "dominate the worlds of music, movies, video games, and MMA," posted a piece ripping into "Dr. James Miller, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy." Yell! was mad at Miller for formulating a policy ordering troops not to wear TapouT brand clothing for security reasons.
There is no Dr. James Miller and no policy. The story Yell! yelled about was more of The Duffel Blog bunkum.
Szoldra, 28, said he didn't start out to create what is now being called The Onion of the military.
After leaving the Marines in 2010, Szoldra moved to Lakeland and enrolled at the University of Tampa, eventually deciding to seek a major in entrepreneurship. As part of that, in January he came up with CollegeVeteran.com, a website dedicated to helping veterans navigate the often tortuous process of enrolling in college and obtaining financing.
But Szoldra, long a fan of military humor, what with having served and all, began posting satirical blog items to increase traffic. The most notorious centered on MacDill Air Force Base and efforts by then-base commander Col. Lenny Richoux to get rid of all the chairs on base, ostensibly because he was sick of the "Chair Force" chiding.
While there really was a Lenny Richoux, the chair ban was, of course, baloney. But the item became so popular that CollegeVeteran.com was being referred to increasingly as a joke site. So in March, Szoldra created The Duffel Blog, which has more than 12,000 Facebook friends and 1,200 Twitter followers.
"The best satire always has a hint of truth to it," Szoldra said. "I understand why people coming to the site for the first time and reading something, they think, 'Oh, boy, that is screwed up.' "