The Late Paul Horner Was the Andy Kaufman of Fake News

Facebook screenshot showing an unsmiling Paul Horner at a 2016 rally for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson
Comedian and fake-news purveyor Paul Horner, shown here at a 2016 rally for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, saw Andy Kaufman and Hunter S. Thompson as inspirations for his satire (screenshot via Facebook)
When word spread that Paul Horner had died, media outlets were hesitant to report the news. Such is the fate of an ace internet hoaxer.

Comedian and hoaxster extraordinaire Paul Horner earned international infamy for churning out fake news items on sites he created, including SuperOfficialNews.com, NationalReport.net, and NewsExaminer.net.

Horner’s tall tales bamboozled so many people over the years that mainstream news outlets initially were reluctant to pass along news of his recent death, apparently for fear that the Phoenix-area resident might be pantsing them yet again.

On Saturday, September 23, Phoenix New Times broke the news that Horner had died five days prior at the age of 38.

Thanks to the skittishness (or cluelessness) of his competitors, New Times‘s Ben Leatherman had the scoop all to himself until the following Monday. That’s when the local constabulary confirmed that Horner was in fact dead, likely of an accidental overdose. The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner has not yet released its final report.

 

Days later Washington Post reporter Abby Ohlheiser observed that the “second-guessing” regarding Horner’s death among reporters (including herself) “speaks to the reach of Horner’s work.”

More than once, Horner had left the media and/or various politicos red in the face.

There was the time Fox News ran with the hoax that President Barack Obama paid out of his own pocket to keep a Muslim museum open during a government shutdown.

And the time then-Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had to deny that she was seeking mandatory gay-conversion therapy for K-12 students in public schools.

Oh, and the time in 2012 when Horner wrote that Bill Murray was coming to Phoenix as part of a nationwide party-crashing tour.

Even when Horner used his own name in his stories, many were slow to get the joke.

In one gem from 2012, a “Paul Horner” purchased one-half of a winning Powerball ticket and showed up to claim the $588 million prize stinking of weed and malt liquor.

People bought it.

A Louisiana town bans twerking? People bought it.

Authorities arrest the street artist Banksy and reveal him to be Paul Horner? People bought it.

A Louisiana man named “Paul Horner” stops would-be hold-up artists by quoting Pulp FictionPulp Fiction‘s producers at Miramax swallowed the hook.

But Horner garnered the enmity of the MSM snobberazzi with his political spoofs.

In 2016, the Horner headline, “Donald Trump Protester Speaks Out: ‘I Was Paid $3,500 To Protest Trump’s Rally,'” was RT’d by Trump’s son Eric and by Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

The future POTUS himself suggested that it was true, though the fake story’s bogosity should have been evident to anyone paying attention: The story quotes (you guessed it) “Paul Horner.”

Infuriated, Horner added a disclaimer to the top of the article.

“This story is not real,” he wrote. “No one needs money to protest Donald Trump. I personally went to two Donald Trump rallies and I can say with 100% certainty that NONE of the protesters were getting paid. This story I wrote is mocking all of you sheep who think protesters are getting paid. Do your own thinking, retards.”

Horner claimed to hate Trump and his followers. He insisted what he’d been doing with fake news was satire.

But he also told the WaPo shortly after last year’s election that he believed “Trump is in the White House because of me.”

In a subsequent profile New Times published in early November,  Leatherman writes that Horner claimed to have pulled down $10,000 to $20,000 a month the height of his fake-news writing.

Was he an opportunist or, as Salon.com referred to him, a “trollish sociopath”?

Leatherman, who had met and  interviewed Horner previously, depicts the fake-newsmeister as a sensitive, talented comedian who dreamed up absurdities like “Fappy the anti-masturbation dolphin,” waited to perform at local comedy shows in his lonely “VIP Room for One,” and hung out with Charles Barkley.

In March of this year, he traveled to the European Parliament in Brussels to take part in a panel discussion about the importance of fact checking (Horner is introduced around the 26-minute mark).

Writes Leatherman:

Back in September 2013, Paul Horner was staying at his mom’s house on the edge of Laveen. He worked out of a cramped back room decorated with his personal heroes. A painting of Bill Hicks he made rested against one wall. A bulletin board with pictures of Andy Kaufman and Hunter S. Thompson hung above his desk.

We were in the middle of an interview, when a medium-size cream-colored mutt named Mac wandered in. Paul had rescued the dog after she was abandoned nearby (a common occurrence in that part of town). He petted Mac while describing how both Kaufman and Thompson influenced his work.

“I like writing stuff that takes you one direction and then turns it around … Andy Kaufman-like stuff,” he said. “And Hunter S. Thompson, I love doing political stuff and he was all about that, calling out assholes. I did a lot on Rick Santorum when he was running for president. That’s just pure evil, man.”

In late-night online chat sessions, Horner told Leatherman of his fondness for the drug ketamine, a predilection his brother, artist JJ Horner, corroborated. (Leatherman reports that Horner had one conviction for possession with intent to distribute, for which he served four months in jail.)

A child of divorce, he was estranged from his father but had close relationships with JJ and their mother. And he donated time and money to a charity he created that hands out socks to the homeless.

As it was with Andy Kaufman (one of Horner’s heroes), who became obsessed in he extreme with professional wrestling, with Horner the line between reality and art was not white, nor yellow, nor even gray, but transparent.

At times he seemed confused by his role in the world.

The mark of an artist? A con artist? A little bit of both?

Click this link to follow Benjamin Leatherman on Twitter, and click the link below to read Leatherman’s  Paul Horner profile:

“Who Was the Real Paul Horner?”

About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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