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Satirical website The Duffel Blog dupes news sites with bogus stories

Paul Szoldra

The Duffel Blog founder Paul Szoldra in Afghanistan.

News flash: The Pentagon is replacing the classic stabbing bayonet on rifles with a tomahawk “designed for quick chopping motions” complete with a twist-off head providing room for storage. And, the Department of Defense is ordering troops to stop wearing the popular TapouT MMA T-shirts because of security concerns.

Believable? Maybe, but not true.

With a hint of truth these cheeky fake news stories recently duped some serious blogs. Both Gizmodo and Yell magazine happened to mistake the posts on The Duffel Blog, a five-month old satirical website, for real news.

 


The Duffel Blog — also on Facebook (13,600 fans) and Twitter (1,450 followers) — is starting to gain a following among service members and veterans.

It aims not only to poke fun at military culture and foibles through humor and ridiculousness, but also to provide social commentary that can raise awareness on serious issues such as PTSD and suicide, said founder Paul Szoldra. It compares itself to The Onion, but with a military bent.

The Duffel Blog, Szoldra told NBC News, now has more than a million page views a month and some 500,000 users. A recent spike in traffic crashed the servers hosting the site, forcing an upgrade.

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Paul Szoldra

The Duffel Blog's Inverted Multi-Purpose Ballistic Tomahawk Bayonet.

Szoldra is a 28-year-old former Marine infantryman originally from Terryville, Conn. He served eight years, was honorably discharged in 2010 and is now a senior studying entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa on the GI Bill.

Gizmodo, a site for technology fans, recently bit on the Duffel blog’s report announcing the “limited deployment” of the new Inverted Multi-Purpose Ballistic Tomahawk Bayonet, or IMBTB. Gizmodo even ran a picture of the rifle and said the storage area in the IMBTB would contain “five matches, a small compass, maps, and two gallons of pressurized JP-8 fuel.”

“The picture was an awful Photoshop job,” Szoldra  said. “Probably the worst I’ve ever done.”

A reader gave Gizmodo a heads-up on The Duffel Blog’s real purpose, triggering an apology.

“The problem with the US military is that sometimes their contraptions get so wacky that I can believe anything they say,” Gizmodo’s blogger wrote. “My mistake, people. Sorry about that.”

Yell magazine, which covers mixed martial arts among other topics, also fell for a story about “Dr. James Miller, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy” banning attire emblazoned with the TapouT logo, writing a full rebuttal.

Still, with The Duffel Blog billing itself as “The American Military’s Most-Trusted News Service,” it does fool people.

“It happens every day, Szoldra said. “People e-mail me all the time. Individuals read a story and think it’s true. Most people get spoofed at first, but then later figure it out.”

Other recent posts include “Army Increases Combat Effectiveness With More Reflective Belts” and “Airmen Offered Free Pickup Art Classes, Students Aim Higher To Score Babes.”

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Szoldra said the dark humor he experienced in the infantry and his natural joker attitude helped him get started.  He started the blog on his own but since has added more than 20 contributors — active duty military and veterans — who provide insider knowledge of all the branches of the service.

Szoldra, who is married with a 3-year-old son, has only been writing satire a short time, but his very first article, about a colonel banning chairs at MacDill Air Force Base because he’s sick of the Chair Force nickname, went viral.

One of his inspirations is a Marine comic called Terminal Lance, who helped give The Duffel Blog a boost early on by linking to The Duffel Blog.

Satire has proved wildly popular but Szoldra also has his hand in more serious work. He serves as the media relations director for a new nonprofit group called the Marine Infantry Veterans Foundation, which supports infantry Marines when they get out of the service . “It’s infantry helping infantry,” he said.

While the site makes a little money through advertising and donation, that revenue primarily pays for the server costs, Szoldra said. When he graduates in December he hopes to continue his education to get a master’s degree in digital journalism, or make The Duffel Blog a full-time job.

“I do want to make people laugh,” Szoldra said, “but at the same time I do have a little bit of a following, a bully pulpit if you will, where I can highlight something that I think is worth making fun of and a lot of time it’s better to make fun of it than it is to just complain about it.” 

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