Paul Horner (November 5, 1978 – September 18, 2017) was an American writer, comedian and contributor to fake news websites. The Associated Press, The Chicago Tribune, PolitiFact and The Washington Post all called Horner a "hoax artist".
Horner was born on November 5, 1978 in Minnesota. There he grew up with his family and brother until they moved to Arizona when they became adolescents. Horner developed an interest in politics at an early age, often sketching and creating political cartoons before becoming a writer and web contributor.
Lead writer for National Report
One of his widest-spread fake stories was a piece claiming artist Banksy had been arrested and his identity revealed as Paul Horner, which Horner posted in 2013 and was re-circulated in 2014 and once again in 2017.
Horner is still listed as a possible suspect behind Banksy's true identity and some even believe Banksy could be Horner's creation. Random art sightings claiming to be works of art by Banksy stating "Paul Horner I come for you" turned out to be hoaxes by Horner.
Due to one of Horner's stories, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had to go on live television to insist that she was not implementing mandatory gay to straight programs in all Arizona K-12 schools. Fox News did a live broadcast about one of Horner's stories as being factual: Barack Obama had personally funded a Muslim museum so it could stay open during the government shutdown of 2013.
A stir was caused across the Internet as St. George, Utah, was the focus of an article posted on National Report claiming the city had made pornography illegal with first-time offenders receiving 30 days in jail.
Departure and launch of News Examiner
Horner left National Report in 2014, launched News Examiner at the start of 2015 and also started numerous websites including abcnews.com.co, cnn.com.de, cbsnews.com.co and nbc.com.co (note that domains ending in “.co” are registered in Colombia as that is its official two-letter abbreviation, and Colombia allows non-Colombians to register such domains because of the similarity to “.com” as a way to get a similar-looking domain if the equivalent “.com” is taken) to post fake news articles, as well as ABCnews.com.co. In 2015, he wrote a fake story that Yelp was suing South Park that received wide circulation.
By 2015, he had written several fake stories about DeQuincy, Louisiana, which said that the town had been under attack from gay zombies, had legalized polygamy, and had banned twerking, discussing the color of any dress (in response to the viral story about the dress), and Koreans; he told a local news station that he originally targeted it because "my friend Brandon Adams said there is like 4,000 people that live there, and all they do is drink Old Milwaukee's Best and beat their wives" and that he kept targeting it because he had received death and castration threats in response to his first story. One of his stories about DeQuincy, and one that he says is one of his favorites, was about a man who stopped a robbery in a diner by quoting Pulp Fiction; the story was posted on the Miramax website. In 2016, one of Horner's stories about Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán escaping from prison for a third time, forced the Mexican government to tweet images of the drug kingpin behind bars to dispel rumors of the escape.
2016 U.S. presidential election
His stories had an "enormous impact" on the 2016 U.S. presidential election according to CBS News; they consistently appeared in Google's top news search results, were shared widely on Facebook and were taken seriously and shared by third parties such as Trump presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Eric Trump, ABC News and Fox News. Horner later claimed that his work during this period was intended "to make Trump's supporters look like idiots for sharing my stories".
In a November 2016 interview with The Washington Post, Horner expressed regret for the role his fake news stories played in the election and surprise at how gullible people were in treating his stories as news. In February 2017 Horner said,
I truly regret my comment about saying that I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me. I know all I did was attack him and his supporters and got people not to vote for him. When I said that comment it was because I was confused how this evil got elected President and I thought maybe instead of hurting his campaign, maybe I had helped it. My intention was to get his supporters NOT to vote for him and I know for a fact that I accomplished that goal. The far right, a lot of the Bible thumpers and Alt-Right were going to vote for him regardless, but I know I swayed so many that were on the fence.
In December 2016, while speaking on Anderson Cooper 360°, Horner said that all news is fake news and called CNN "fake news", which was one month before Donald Trump leveled the same criticism at that network.
Horner spoke at the European Parliament in March, speaking about fake news and the importance of fact checking. According to a 2017 BuzzFeed article, Horner stated that a story of his about a rape festival in India helped generate over $250,000 in donations to GiveIndia, a site that helps rape victims in India. Horner wrote many anti-Donald Trump stories in 2017, one about Twitter canceling his account, and one about Trump canceling Saturday Night Live. Horner was in many documentaries about the subject of fake news including one by Orange S.A. and L'important. Horner said he disliked being grouped with people who write fake news solely to be misleading. "They just write it just to write fake news, like there's no purpose, there's no satire, there's nothing clever. All the stories I wrote were to make Trump's supporters look like idiots for sharing my stories." HuffPost referred to Horner as a "Performance Artist".
Horner said he wrote about things he saw wrong in society and mocked them satirically to bring awareness to the problem. Horner said that sites like The Onion give away the gag in the headline so the information presented is not as powerful because the reader knows it is a joke, but in his stories, Horner believed that when he wrote an article about Donald Trump saying that he will deport all the Jews in America, people would actually listen and reconsider their support of the president. Horner was referred to as a "hoax artist" by outlets such as the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune. PolitiFact and The Washington Post both called Horner the Internet's most prolific hoax artist.
The Phoenix New Times reported that Horner died at his home on September 18, 2017, at the age of 38. Although this was initially thought to be a hoax, it was later confirmed by the Maricopa County, Arizona, coroner's office.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Mark Casey said on September 19, 2017, that authorities discovered Horner dead in his bed on September 18. Casey said the county's medical examiner performed an autopsy which showed there were no signs of foul play. He said Horner had a history of prescription drug abuse and that "evidence at the scene suggested this could be an accidental overdose". Horner had a history of heart problems since adolescence.
- "Prolific Fake News Writer Paul Horner Dead at 38". www.yahoo.com. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
- Silber, Clarice. "Infamous fake news writer found dead in bed". Business Insider. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
- "Paul Horner, writer of fake news about 2016 election, dead at 38". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
- Caitlin Dewey. "Did Facebook just kill the Web's burgeoning industry?date=January 21, 2015". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
- "This is not an interview with Banksy". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 23, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
- Bavaro, Rhonda (September 7, 2017). "Street Artist Banksy Arrested And Unmasked at Art Exhibit In Palestine Is A Hoax. This man is not the president of the United Arab States of America". Business2community.com. Archived from the original on September 24, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "FACT CHECK: Graffiti Artist Banksy Arrested in London; Identity Revealed?". Snopes.com. October 20, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "Fake News: Graffiti Artist Banksy NOT Arrested At Art Exhibit In Palestine; Identity NOT Revealed". Hoax-alert.leadstories.com. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "Anti-Masturbation Mascot Was NOT Caught Masturbating". Klaq.com. November 16, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "Is Michael Moore really making a movie about an anti-masturbation dolphin called Fappy?". The Daily Dot. May 31, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "Is Banksy Actually Fappy The Anti-Masturbation Dolphin?". Mass Appeal. October 20, 2014. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "FALSE: Christian Anti-Masturbation's Mascot "Fappy" Arrested for Public Masturbation". Snopes.com. November 16, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Neuendorf, Henri (October 13, 2016). "Who Is Banksy? Here are the 10 Most Plausible Theories". News.artnet.com. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Benjamin Leatherman (February 25, 2015). "No, There Isn't a Banksy at The Lost Leaf in Phoenix". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Henri Neuendorf (October 14, 2016). "Who Is Banksy? We Rank the 10 Most Plausible Theories | HuffPost". Huffingtonpost Post. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "Jan Brewer Fights Back Against Satirical Gay Conversion Therapy Article". HuffPost. August 23, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Wemple, Erik (October 7, 2013). "'Fox & Friends' fails on Obama-Muslim museum connection: No surprise here". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "Jimmy Kimmel Gives 'Gullible' Fox News a Shocking Tip About Obama". Mediaite. October 8, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "National Report satire on St. George creates a stir – St George News". Stgeorgeutah.com. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Lince, Tim (September 15, 2015). "Notorious 'cybersquatter' advises brands: 'know your target and adapt your approach'". World Trademark Review. Archived from the original on November 21, 2016. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
- Horgan, Richard (March 14, 2016). "Three Strikes and This Fake News Site Is Out". Adweek.
- Huff, Steve (October 21, 2015). "Yelp is Not Suing South Park for $10 Million". Maxim.
- Cooper, Michael (May 15, 2015). "DeQuincy targeted by fake news site ... again". KPLC News.
- Hedegaard, Erik (November 29, 2016), "How a Fake Newsman Accidentally Helped Trump Win the White House - Paul Horner thought he was trolling Trump supporters – but after the election, the joke was on him", Rolling Stone, retrieved November 29, 2016
- "Man quotes PULP FICTION - stops robbery". Miramax. December 5, 2013. Archived from the original on April 1, 2017. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
- Eugene Daniels (July 8, 2016). "Today In Fake News: El Chapo Escapes For A Third Time - Newsy Story". Ktts.com. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "Mexican Politician Tweets El Chapo Prison Photo to Dispel Rumors of an Escape". ABC News. July 9, 2016. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
- "Lawyer: Mexican officials violated privacy of 'El Chapo' by posting prison photo". United Press International. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
- "Facebook fake news creator claims he put Trump in White House". CBS News. November 17, 2016.
- Jacobson, Louis (November 17, 2016). "No, someone wasn't paid $3,500 to protest Donald Trump". Politifact.
- Daro, Ishmael N. (October 28, 2016). "How A Prankster Convinced People The Amish Would Win Trump The Election". BuzzFeed.
- French, Sally (November 18, 2016). "This person makes $10,000 a month writing fake news". MarketWatch.
- Bratu, Becky; et al. (December 15, 2016). "Tall Tale or Satire? Authors of So-Called 'Fake News' Feel Misjudged". NBC News.
- Dewey, Caitlin (November 17, 2016). "Facebook fake-news writer: 'I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me'". The Washington Post.
- Neidig, Harper (November 17, 2016). "Fake news giant: I feel bad about putting Trump in the White House". The Hill.
- Genzlinger, Neil (November 17, 2016). "'Duck Dynasty' Legacy: Real, Fake and Upfront About It". The New York Times.
- Sykes, Charles (November 25, 2016). "Donald Trump and the Rise of Alt-Reality Media". Politico.
- Binckes, Jeremy (November 17, 2016). ""People are definitely dumber": Thanks to Facebook, a viral fake-news writer is making $10,000 a month". Salon.
- Madigan, Charles M. (November 21, 2016). "The danger of a leader who believes what 'people are saying ...'". Chicago Tribune.
- "Comedian Who Writes Fake News Claims: Trump Won The Election Because Of Me". Inside Edition. November 18, 2016.
- Welch, Dennis (February 16, 2017). "Fake news writer 'regrets' taking credit for Trump victory", azfamily.com. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (November 19, 2016). "Stephen Speaks Out Against Diplomatic Bullying". Retrieved October 1, 2017 – via YouTube.
- "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Video - Facebook fake news". Globaltv.com. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
- "Fake news writer: It's satire", Anderson Cooper 360°, CNN.
- Collinson, Stephen (February 16, 2017), "An amazing moment in history: Donald Trump's press conference", CNN, February 16, 2017.τ
- "Fake news in social media as reality shapers", Streamovations, March 8, 2017.
- Daro, Ishmael N. (March 9, 2017), "A Live TV Debate About Fake News Went Completely Off The Rails And It Was Amazing To Watch", BuzzFeed.com. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Nashrulla, Tasneem (November 8, 2013), "An American Website Wrote A Satirical Article About An Indian Rape Festival And Many People Thought It Was Real", BuzzFeed.com. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Madan, Karuna (November 21, 2013), "US website’s ‘rape festival’ report sparks uproar", Gulf News India.
- "FACT CHECK: Did Twitter Delete Donald Trump's Account over 'Racism'?". Snopes.com. January 11, 2017. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
- "FACT CHECK: Donald Trump Signs Executive Order Cancelling Saturday Night Live". Snopes.com. April 16, 2017. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
- Découverte : à la rencontre de Paul Horner, maître incontesté de la fake news (in French), March 24, 2017, retrieved September 28, 2017
- "Tall Tale or Satire? Authors of So-Called ‘Fake News’ Feel Misjudged", NBC News, December 15, 2016.
- Frank, Priscilla (April 19, 2017). "Alex Jones Says He's A Performance Artist. Surprisingly, Actual Performance Artists Agree", HuffPost. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- "NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week"[permanent dead link], Associated Press/Chicago Tribune. May 26, 2017.
- "This is not an interview with Banksy". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
- "Fake news writer concocted story about Trump resigning". Retrieved October 1, 2017.
- "Meet the professional fake news creator who believes he's doing a public service". Rooster. August 30, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Angie Drobnic Holan (December 13, 2016). "2016 Lie of the Year: Fake news". PolitiFact. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
- Leatherman, Benjamin (September 23, 2017). "Phoenix Comedian and Internet Hoaxster Paul Horner Has Died". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
- Noah Kulwin (December 6, 2017). "A fentanyl cocktail killed the fake news writer who bogusly claimed he got Trump elected". Vice.
- An online journal for Paul Horner
- Cooper, Anderson; Horner, Paul (December 12, 2016). "Fake news writer: My work is satire and CNN is fake news". CNN Video.
- Paul Horner, comedian and host