Earlier this afternoon, The Onion, a satirical news organization, tweeted “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.” The initial reaction from The Onion’s followers was trepidation, at best. The Onion is known as a satirical source of “news” that most know to take with a grain of salt. But what if they were telling the truth?
They followed the initial tweet shortly thereafter with “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen,” followed by the hashtag #CongressHostage.
According to Blottr, within fifteen minutes of The Onion posting the initial tweet they had received 668 comments from the public, speculating on whether it was a hoax. Others thought that perhaps The Onion’s Twitter account had been hacked. The initial tweet was re-tweeted hundreds of time to thousands of followers, spreading throughout the Internet.
But to those familiar with The Onion, it was always a joke – it could have been nothing else but a joke. This is the same News Agency that ran the headline “Black Guy Asks Nation For Change” after President Obama’s election in November, 2008. Yet shortly after it was known that the tweets were simply advertisements for an article released this afternoon, the uproar began. Many found the joke in poor taste, some even noting that they would no longer be following @theonion on Twitter after the publicity stunt.
Sensitivity to this issue remains high after the shooting of Democratic House member Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011. The United States also has a troubling history with gun-related violence involving children and political figures. It is easy to see why, if nothing else, The Onion has certainly hit a nerve.
Some members of the public were not the only ones unimpressed. Capitol Hill police responded to the urgent message on the premise that something may, in fact, be wrong. They released a statement to the public stating that there “no credibility to these stories”, according to the BBC, “and that the security situation was ‘normal’.”
The article itself, ‘Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage’, features a Photoshopped image of Republican House Leader John Boehner holding a gun to a child’s head while a masked man (we are led to believe it is Democratic Senator Harry Reid) stands behind with an assault rifle. The image itself is slightly jarring, but that was likely the point.
Even the BBC was able to see that the supposed point of it was “apparently [to poke] fun at recent congressional budget showdowns.” The article ends with Obama claiming that,
“There’s just no way of getting through to these people,” said Obama, holding his head in his hands. “I know Speaker Boehner personally, and I know that he and his colleagues will not hesitate for a second to kill these poor children if they don’t get their way.”
Subtlety, it would seem, was not for The Onion with this article. And the Headlines itself, so often what is the most amusing about The Onion, was not especially funny in the first place.
But still – people would do well to remember the source before jumping to conclusions.
Article appeared originally in Digital Journal. Published 9/29/11.