Paul Horner made a career exploiting others’ stupidity. He wrote satire that often looked too convincing. When his bullshit news stories spread like wildfire, it made his subjects, his readers and the media look like a bunch of idiots.
A lot of people hated him for that. I loved him for it.
Paul Horner and his brother, JJ Horner (Photo courtesy of JJ Horner)
“When an artist dies, their work becomes forever," JJ Horner, Paul’s younger brother, says over the phone. "In a way, I feel like this immortalizes him.”
We’re discussing the legacy Paul left behind after his untimely death a few weeks ago, at the age of 38.
Paul was the most prolific fake news creator the country had ever known. In one ridiculous article, he persuaded readers that Barack Obama was a gay, radical Muslim. In others, he convinced the Internet that Fappy the Anti-Masturbation dolphin — the beloved mascot for Stop Masturbation Now — was arrested for jerking off in public. He once terrorized the nation by announcing El Chapo, Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, escaped maximum-security prison for the third time. It was pretty funny, the nonsense people believed.
But for every hoax America fell for, he was villainized. After the election, the country furiously pointed at Paul as the face of fake news — the deceitful reason Trump was elected. The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, CNN, CBS, ABC, Snopes, Politifact … and countless other media organizations berated him.
Paul took the fall for a national crisis, but he was never apologetic. “It goes to show how much he believed in the integrity of his work," his brother says. "He wasn’t trying to hide behind a computer screen.”
“I’m prepared for people to not like what I’m doing," Paul once told me. "I know I’m on the right side of history. I know what’s right and what’s wrong, and I’m going to continue speaking out against what’s evil.”
Despite all the chaos Paul created, I trusted him when he said his intentions were good. He was one of the kindest people I’d ever worked with as a reporter. After our interviews, we’d talk for hours, laughing and shooting the shit. He was hilariously unconventional, carefree and unlike anyone I’d worked with before him. He actually cared to know who I was as a person.
Unfortunately, not many people saw this side of him. Paul had his own charity, called Sock it Forward, that donated socks to the homeless. He had an award on display in his home, from when he raised money for a women’s shelter in India.
He loved journalism, political satire and making people think differently. He had hopes of working for The Onion someday.
Paul on an occasion when he handed out hundreds of pairs of socks and over 300 burritos (Photo courtesy of sockitforward.com)
“Fake news is making people fact-check, making them smarter readers, and making them recognize the difference between opinion and fact,” Paul said in our first interview.
He built a career out of blurring the lines between fact and fiction — but to me and to his brother, Paul's creativity, his kindness and his integrity are undisputable fact.
If anyone claims otherwise, we'll say, "That’s just fake news."