Illustration: Axios Visuals

A longtime parody Twitter account, @pixelatedboat, tweeted a fake excerpt from Michael Wolff's controversial new book "Fire and Fury," that implied President Trump likes to watch a made-up "gorilla channel" on TV. The riff instantly triggered a wave of viral memes and comedic responses, many of which came from users who thought the excerpt was real.

Why it matters: The unprecedented state of news and journalism during the Trump era has made it difficult for social media users to distinguish comedy from actual news and reporting.

The perfectly-timed joked was a recipe for viral success and confusion. It captured President Trump's well-documented obsession with television and fervor for fighting, as well as the absurdity of some observations made in Wolff's book and the state of utter chaos engulfing the news media, which has sometimes resulted in bad news judgement.

Other instances of good humor turned viral this year show just how susceptible the public has become to falling for parody news on social media in an era where any absurdity seems possible.

  • After the GOP health care bill was defeated in March, a satirical addition to a New York Times story about Paul Ryan listening to Papa Roach circulated on Twitter, but so many people believed the photoshopped image, the author had to clarify to his followers it was just a joke.

The problem becomes worse when examples of poor journalism from established news organizations create a narrative that nothing or everything is "fake news," depending on which bias one wishes to affirm.

  • The Washington Post's David Weigel apologized for tweeting a photograph that did not accurately represent the number of people that attended a Florida rally in December.
  • ABC's Brian Ross was suspended (and just returned) from the network after airing an erroneous report about Michael Flynn's plea that caused the stock market to crash over 300 points.
  • CNN was forced to correct a story about the timing of when candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. access hacked WikiLeaks documents before they were publicly available.

Already, right-wing media is using the incident to drive a deeper wedge between conservatives and "liberal" media, arguing affirmation bias against the Trump administration caused some journalists to believe the joke was real. "The more conspiratorial elements of the anti-Trump Twitter world were hardest hit," writes The Washington Free Beacon.

Go deeper

White House, Democrats remain "trillions of dollars apart" on stimulus talks

Meadows and Mnuchin. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration and Democrats have not agreed to any "top-line numbers" and remain "trillions of dollars apart" on coronavirus stimulus negotiations, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday.

The state of play: Meadows told reporters, "At this point we’re either going to get serious about negotiating and get an agreement in principle or — I’ve become extremely doubtful that we’ll be able to make a deal if it goes well beyond Friday.”

23 million Americans face eviction

Natasha Blunt of New Orleans, who is at risk of eviction. Photo: Dorthy Ray/AP

The coronavirus pandemic threatens America with a new wave of homelessness due to a cratering economy, expiring unemployment stimulus payments and vanishing renter protections.

What they're saying: "I've never seen this many people poised to lose their housing in such a short period of time," said Bill Faith of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio to AP.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 18,624,056 — Total deaths: 702,479 — Total recoveries — 11,181,518Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4:30 p.m. ET: 4,802,275 — Total deaths: 157,551 — Total recoveries: 1,528,979 — Total tests: 58,239,438Map.
  3. 2020: Joe Biden will no longer travel to Milwaukee for Democratic convention.
  4. Public health: Florida surpasses 500,000 confirmed casesFauci calls U.S. coronavirus testing delays "totally unacceptable"
  5. Business: America's next housing crisis.
  6. Education: Chicago Public Schools to begin school year fully remote.