Amid the cascade of revelations from Michael Wolff’s incendiary book about the Trump administration, one Twitter user posted a screenshot Thursday night of what looked like an especially stunning excerpt. It described how the president, on his first night in office, had complained that White House televisions did not carry "the gorilla channel" and that Trump spent up to 17 hours a day watching gorilla programming his staff subsequently produced to satisfy his simian appetites.
The excerpt, of course, was satire. But that was not clear to the countless people who spread it like wildfire across the Internet, where the gag commingled with actual claims from the book, including that Trump prefers McDonald’s because he fears being poisoned and that he once failed to recognize former House Speaker John Boehner.
So many Twitter users took seriously the gag excerpt, which included the claim that Trump spends 17 hours a day watching videos of gorillas fighting, that its author subsequently tweeted a clarification and even switched to a highly literal new twitter username — "the gorilla channel thing is a joke” — to underscore the point.
Internet parodies are routinely mistaken for fact. But the case of the "gorilla channel" underscores the extent to which news junkies and political partisans, recently exposed to a series of startling claims about strange events inside the White House, are willing to believe almost anything about the always unpredictable, norm-shattering presidency of Donald Trump.
“To appease Trump, White House staff compiled a number of gorilla documentaries into a makeshift gorilla channel, broadcast into Trump’s bedroom from a hastily-constructed transmission tower on the South Lawn,” read the fake excerpt, tweeted by a user whose official handle is @pixelatedboat. “However, Trump was unhappy with the channel they had created, moaning that it was ‘boring’ because ‘the gorillas aren’t fighting.’”
Twitter users could be forgiven for at least wondering if the blurb was real. The faked excerpt’s tone echoed the real book's omniscient style. And Trump is reported to be a voracious consumer of television, though he has denied it. Real excerpts of the book also portray a White House staff eager to please an impetuous president and adjusting, at least initially, to Trump’s particular preferences and tastes.
The faked excerpt was posted Thursday night just after 9 p.m. by Twitter user @pixelatedboat, hours before the book’s scheduled Friday released. Less than 90 minutes later, the same user posted a follow up, writing “[that feeling when] you parody a guy making up shit about Trump but people believe it so you become part of the problem.”
“Staff edited out all the parts of the documentaries where gorillas weren’t hitting each other, and at last the president was satisfied,” the faked excerpt continued, citing a “an insider” who said Trump would watch “the gorilla channel” for 17 hours straight on some days. “He kneels in front of the TV, with his face about four inches from the screen,” the nonexistent insider continued, “and says encouraging things to the gorillas, like ‘the way you hit that other gorilla was good.’”
Among those who fell for the parody was Eric Garland, an Internet personality with nearly 175,000 followers known for his sometimes-conspiratorial commentary about Trump's Russia ties. "I got totally punked on the Gorilla Channel thing — but when you've already gotten to 'eating KFC in bed,' I mean, we're through the looking glass," Garland tweeted Friday, apparently referring to a Wolff claim that Trump eats fast food in bed.
By early Friday morning, @pixelatedboat had changed his or her user name — which prominently appears on a Twitter user's profile in bold — from @pixelatedboat to “the gorilla channel thing is a joke” and wondered in another post “if this new display name will help. Probably not.”