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The Duffel Blog: Like 'The Onion' In Camo


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. "Congress Repeals Ban On Nudists Serving Openly." "ISIS Hit With Massive Wireless Bill After Sending Message To America." Those are real headlines. They're just not real news. They're pulled off the Duffel Blog, a satirical website that emphasizes military stories - think The Onion in camo. Paul Szoldra is the man behind those fake reports. He's founder and editor-in-chief of the Duffel Blog, and he joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

PAUL SZOLDRA: Thanks, Scott, it's great to be with you.

SIMON: You're a veteran, aren't you?

SZOLDRA: Yes. The Marine Corps - was in for eight years.

SIMON: And where did you serve? What was it like?

SZOLDRA: It was, you know, good times and bad. I was in Afghanistan for seven months. Before that I was in Japan, the Philippines; I've been to Korea, Thailand - just a bunch of fun places.

SIMON: Let's share some of the articles that people can find here. "Pentagon To Bypass Iraqi Army And Supply ISIS Directly."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The Pentagon announced today that it would no longer supply the Iraqi Army with American vehicles, artillery and rifles and instead would supply material directly to ISIS. Central command spokesman Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder says the idea, quote, "would be a game changer."

SZOLDRA: The idea was that the Iraqi Army was not really standing up to ISIS. I mean, we saw that in Mosul, a lot of soldiers just ran away or tried to strip off their uniforms and run. That's what that story is all about. A week after that ran, or less than that, there was a actual news story about the U.S. doing an air drop that was supposed to hit the - I believe it was the Iraqi Army or the Kurds. And it ended up going into ISIS territory and they seized it.

SIMON: Have you ever fooled anybody who should know better?

SZOLDRA: Oh, yeah. I mean it's a daily occurrence. I'm actually quite surprised by it now. The site's about, you know, it's about three - or more than three - years old now. So I'm kind of surprised when it happens. But one of the biggest ones - I guess the biggest one - was Senator Mitch McConnell's office actually penned a letter to the Pentagon because a constituent asked about a story they saw on Duffel Blog. And then McConnell's office sent a letter to the Pentagon asking if it was true. And so that was quite amusing to us.

SIMON: Another one, which I loved - "Study: Use Of Military Jargon Validates Pathetic Existence."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Test subjects - who ranged from telemarketers and middle managers all the way up to Fortune 500 CEOs - could casually slip a locked and loaded, hit the beach on D-Day or take no prisoners, into their business dealings and immediately feel a surge of self-importance, no matter how enigmatic or nonsensical the placement, hiding the vacuousness of whatever was being discussed.

SZOLDRA: (Laughter).

SIMON: Boy, this is tough stuff, ouch.

SZOLDRA: Being under fire, in the trenches or any kind of military buzzwords are often used in a civilian mindset. You know, if you actually think about it, it doesn't really make much sense. Politicians are not under fire. They're just dealing with bad press (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah, they're just getting a question from George Stephanopoulos. They're not under fire.

SZOLDRA: Right, right (laughter).

SIMON: You wrote a piece last year for Business Insider - "Tell Me Again, Why Did My Friends Die In Iraq?"

SZOLDRA: So Fallujah was taken over by ISIS at the time, and there were a lot of veterans who were questioning whether it was worth it - just really upset about the entire thing. We're seeing that again with Ramadi. I never served in Iraq, but I have plenty of friends who did and a few friends who lost their lives there, and I think we'll also see that more as Afghanistan unfolds. If we pull out of that country, you know, Afghan veterans will be sitting here wondering why and did we do the right thing?

SIMON: I'm just moved to ask, Mr. Szoldra, if you've ever seen the cartoons of Bill Mauldin? He drew the "Willie And Joe" cartoons. And, you know, they didn't make fun of the enemy - or at least rarely. They made fun of the officers.

SZOLDRA: (Laughter) Well, you make fun of what you know. You know, I'm not - I don't read a whole lot of, like, you know, cartoons and stuff like that and that kind of thing, but I am familiar with satire kind of going back. And I've gotten messages from Vietnam vets who say we had these underground newspapers in Vietnam and they were just like this, you know? And it's like you're the modern day version of that. As much as I would like to think this is, you know, an amazing original idea, I've had help and inspiration before me, and they all served a purpose, which is just to highlight the absurdity of things and ultimately entertain veterans.

SIMON: Paul Szoldra, who's founder of the Duffel Blog, thanks so much for being with us.

SZOLDRA: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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