On Dec. 22, Newsweek published a story about the United Nations and North Korea.
It quoted two tweets from the Twitter account @DPRK_News:
Hunchon University technologists increase production of celerys and winter fruits by ten percent. In U.S., many starve during harsh winter.â€” DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) December 20, 2014
Widespread errors of U.S. courts sentence thousands of innocents to prison each year, report finds.â€” DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) December 20, 2014
The article, posted on Facebook, received the following comments:
Oops. A correction was promptly added. To be fair, Newsweek was not the only outlet to have fallen for the parody account. The Washington Post, Reuters, The Huffington Post, Verge, Buzzfeed News and others have all cited tweets by @DPRK_News as official statements by the government of North Korea. That’s a pretty good track record for a parody account. So we reached out to the men behind the mask.
Turns out the account’s authors are bloggers for Popehat.com, a libertarian law blog founded by Ken White, a former federal prosecutor. The bloggers declined to give their real names but go by Patrick Popehat and Derrick Popehat. Here’s what they had to say in response to emailed questions.
You’re bloggers at Popehat, correct? What do you do when you’re not Popehatting?
Patrick Popehat: We are. The Popehat blog was begun in 2005, aborted because we have lives, and restarted in or around October 2007. It’s been active continuously since. I am an attorney. Derrick is not an attorney but works in an allied profession. We met through the forum of a defunct gaming site that, for some reason, drew an older crowd of professionals who also play computer games. The most prolific, and best, blogger at Popehat, the founder of our site, is Ken White, a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles. Ken is the only one of us who blogs under his actual name.
Derrick Popehat: I feel that we can’t mention Popehat without mentioning Ken, whose prolific and hilarious writing is the beating heart of the blog. I’m TECHNICALLY a blogger at Popehat, but I only really write during a presidential election season. I say it’s because I’m too busy, but really I’m secretly cowed by the other writers. You can say I’m a “data analyst” when I’m not “Popehatting.”
Is the DPRK account the only parody account you run? Are there others? Is it common knowledge that this account is a Popehat thing?
Patrick Popehat: There are others. DPRK is the most successful. It’s been running off and on since 2009. Its first coup was taking in a Norwegian television network (we think) with an imaginary threat by North Korea to rain missiles on Cyprus. (At the time Cyprus had briefly detained a North Korean ship smuggling cigarettes.) There have been others through the years. We began the account simply for amusement, not as an effort to “troll” the media. Both Derrick and I find the abusive, belligerent, self-congratulatory rhetoric of Stalinist communists amusing, because it’s so “over the top” that it seems like a parody, even when it’s real. The Internet term “Poe’s Law” comes to mind.
Derrick Popehat: Patrick started DPRK in 2009 and stopped after a month or so because Norwegian news reported on one of his posts (NK declaring war on Cyprus). He started it up again at the end of 2013 for a week, I wanted to keep it going so he gave me the keys. There are people who knew that it was a parody; we haven’t exactly hidden that fact. There were a couple posts on Popehat itself, and our posts on Facebook regarding such are pretty easy to find.
How many Popehats are there?
Patrick Popehat: Up to eight. At present, we have four active bloggers. Past alumni are welcome to blog whenever they choose.
Derrick Popehat: Nine? Six? I lost track. Can we just say we’re mysterious group and our number are “unknown”? Officially Popehat has...five writers?
How many other news outlets have fallen for your DPRK account?
Patrick Popehat: Off the top of my head, The Wall Street Journal, Buzzfeed, Forbes, Norwegian TV, Verge, Roll Call and a number of smaller outlets. In the past week, when North Korea entered the news in a big way, Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, Slate, The Washington Post, Reuters Australia and, of course, Newsweek have paid us homage.
Derrick Popehat: Besides Newsweek: Huffington Post, Verge, Buzzfeed News (twice), Computer World (though they were reporting on it as a parody). There’s probably more.
Buzzfeed fell for it twice? How did that happen?
Derrick Popehat: As for how Buzzfeed fell for it, twice? They’re Buzzfeed. We let the account go dark while Kim Jong Un was “missing” back in August. When he came back, I posted my usual “KJU deploys field guidance...” thing. Patrick decided to Go Big and post something about kung fu training. That was No. 1. No. 2 was the recent thing.
What other instances of you tricking the news media have there been?
Patrick Popehat: Through other parodies? We shouldn’t say.
Derrick Popehat: ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
The way you copy North Korea’s over-the-top style and broken English is pretty dead-on. How do you do it? Do either of you have links to North Korea?
Patrick Popehat: No links that I know of. I studied Russian and at one time (back in the Stone Ages) thought about a career with the NSA. My style is based on the incredibly aggressive and threatening tone once employed by Pravda, Izvestiya, Komsomol Daily and other Soviet newspapers. Derrick can tell you where he finds inspiration.
Derrick Popehat: I broke my arm patting myself on the back for this one, thanks! I literally just go through the KCNA news site (which is real) and look for inspiration. I usually like to take the story itself and then add a little something to it to make it silly. If I read something about Kim Jong Un touring a firing range, I wrote about how he got 100 percent accuracy firing dual pistols. A pro-wrestling tournament in Pyongyang gets a notice about how Mexican wrestlers aren’t invited. My go-to was gifts given to Kim Jong Un; they never actually say what the gift was. This gives the account SOME cover. Do enough of those, and then you can drop a REALLY silly one (like Kim Jong Un saving children from a land mine, or young women from a rampaging elk). Despite the colorfulness of our account, the KCNA feed is actually horrifically boring. Wreaths laid at statue’s feet and such. A lot of stuff on South Korea. After you read enough of those articles, it just becomes really easy to mimic the tone. I have Asian in-laws, and their insults, translated directly into English (and usually directed at me), have all made it into the account in some form. I have no links to North Korea.
Are either of you in the media? If not, why do you focus on media criticism?
Patrick Popehat: Neither of us works in the media.
Derrick Popehat: I’m not in the media, and I have no focus on media criticism aside from the fact that I think Gamergate is kinda silly.