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The Onion is a tabloid newspaper and website featuring tongue-in-cheek satirical news articles and a non-satirical entertainment section. Aside from its daily updated website, the organization has published several books and launched a web video series known as The Onion News Network in 2007.
According to an article in The Washington Post, The Onion newspaper was founded in 1988 by University of Wisconsin-Madison students Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson. The publication's name was chosen by Johnson's uncle after witnessing his nephew eat an onion sandwich on white bread. In 1989, Keck and Johnson sold the paper to Onion staff members Scott Dikkers and Peter Haise for $16,000. In the following years, Dikkers and Haise took the newspaper to several other college campuses in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Boulder. Several years later in 2000, the publication was approached for purchase by the cable television network Comedy Central, but a deal was not made.
In May of 1996, the website TheOnion.com was launched, featuring many of the newspaper articles as well as web-exclusive content on a daily basis. On August 29th, 2003, CNN published an article titled “The Onion: Funny site is no joke”, which reported that the publication remained a “Midwestern secret” until the website was launched in 1996. In April of 2004, the website launched the “Onion Premium” paid subscription service, which allowed an ad-free browsing experience and full access to the site’s archives, but it was discontinued in the following year after disappointing results. However in August of 2011, the website implemented another paywall requiring visitors outside of the United States to pay a fee to access more than five articles in a 30-day period.
On March 23rd, 1999, The Onion published the satirical humor book Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines from America's Finest News Source, which featured mock newspaper front pages for years ranging from 1900 to 1999. That year, the book was awarded the second Thurber Prize for American Humor. From 2000 to 2006, an annual collection of archived news stories were released in book form. On October 30th, 2007, a parody desk atlas titled Our Dumb World was released, which contained entries for a majority of the world's countries with satirical descriptions of each region's customs and history.
On June 3rd, 2008, the comedy film The Onion Movie was released on DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, five years after it was initially filmed. The story was centered around the life of a television news anchorman, who fights against a takeover by a multinational corporation.
Syrian Electronic Army Hack
On May 6th, 2013, The Onion’s official Twitter feed was compromised by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a hacker group known for infiltrating accounts owned by several news media outlets, including the Associated Press, the BBC, NPR and Reuters. The group posted a series of tweets criticizing Israel's military operations and Zionism (shown below) shortly before the account was restored.
That same day, The New York Times reported on the attack, noting that the SEA used e-mail phishing techniques to hack into The Onion's Twitter account. The article also included a statement from SEA member “Th3 Pro,” who indicated that the hack was carried out in retaliation against an Onion satire article written from the perspective of the incumbent Syrian president Al-Assad.
Also on May 6th, The Onion published several articles in response to the hack, quipping that the SEA would inevitably be killed by rebels and that the satirical news organization had changed all of their passwords to “OnionMan77.” In the coming days, the incident was reported on by a number of tech news sites, including CNET, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Slate, and NPR.
After the site redesign in 2005, the paid subscription service Onion Premium was discontinued, allowing all archived content to be accessed for free. Web-only content began being published daily, including the "QuickPoll" online opinion poll, a fictional President's radio address, the Onion Sports Network and the "Stock Watch" satirical stock market analysis. In 2012, the website introduced a "News Beat" section with false weather reports, quizzes, polls and highlights of popular stories. Also in 2012, the site introduced a video series titled The Onion Review, which highlighted notable news stories for the week.
Onion News Network
In March of 2007, the site launched the daily web video series The Onion News Network (ONN), which parodied the reporting on 24-hour television news networks. On January 21st, 2011, the show premiered its first season on the IFC television network. On March 22nd, 2011, IFC announced that ONN had been renewed for a second season. On March 21st, 2012, an IFC spokesperson announced that the ONN show had been canceled. Shows featured on the satirical network included the pundit discussion panel In The Know (shown top, left), the breaking news segment Newsroom (shown top, right), the Factzone with Brooke Alvarez, the morning talk show Today Now! (shown bottom, left), the Nancy Grace parody Cross Examination with Shelby Cross, the C-SPAN parody O-SPAN, the ESPN parody OSN (shown bottom, right), the entertainment show Starfix and the crime show Raw Justice.
On April 29th, 2014, The Onion announced plans to launch a parody of viral content websites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed named "ClickHole" in June of that year. As of May 2014, the website contains an infographic image with instructions on how to click on links within a web browser (shown below) directly above a clickable "Click Me!" button with a live-updated counter.
The Onion's satirical articles have been repeatedly mistaken for real news throughout the years.
Westboro Baptist Church
On July 29th, 1998, the site published an article titled "Homosexual-Recruitment Drive Nearing Goal", which was later cited by Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps as evidence that homosexuals were trying to sway others to become gay.
In March of 2004, the article "58 Percent Of U.S. Exercise Televised" was reported as real by MSNBC anchor Deborah Norville.
Obama's Martial Law Hoax
On July 20th, 2010, a video published by its political satire outlet O-SPAN (a parody of C-SPAN) in 2008 began spread on the social networking site Facebook with warnings that Obama had enacted martial law.
On November 26th, 2011, Fox Nation reposted excerpts from an article titled "Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-World E-Mail" as if it were genuine. On May 30th, the website Literally Unbelievable was launched, which featured screenshots of Facebook status updates interpreting Onion articles as real news.
FIFA Executive's Plea Video
On May 31st, 2015, Austin Jack Warner, a Trinidad and Tobago politician and former executive of FIFA who were among the dozen international football officials arrested a few days prior on charges of "wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering," under an investigation led by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (F.B.I.), uploaded a response video on Facebook to address the indictments he is facing. In the the seven-minute long video, Warner opens by thanking his sympathizers in the social media for sending donations and words of support, before expounding on a conspiracy theory involving a scheme led by the U.S. government in collusion with other members of the football governing community.
“If FIFA is so bad, why is it USA wants to keep the FIFA World Cup?”
During an emotional plea accompanied by somber music at around 5:00 mark, Warner holds up an Onion article headline that reads "FIFA Frantically Announces 2015 Summer World Cup In The United States: Global Soccer Tournament To Kick Off In America Later This Afternoon," which was originally published on the day of his arrest (shown below).
The gaffe made by the former vice president of FIFA was subsequently covered by mainstream English-speaking news sites like NPR, New York Times, Telegraph, as well as several sports blogs including Deadspin, Bleacher Report and SB Nation.
Quvenzhané Wallis Tweet Controversy
On February 24th, 2013, during The Oscars ceremony, The Onion posted a highly risqué tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis, the nine-year-old American actress nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, describing her as "kind of a cunt" (shown below).
The tweet was immediately met with widespread criticism, with many Twitter users offended by the tweet spreading the hashtag "#unfollowTheOnion." Within one hour, The Onion deleted the tweet from the feed.
Beautiful Cinnamon Roll Too Good For This World
Beautiful Cinnamon Roll Too Good For This World, Too Pure is the headline for a satirical article published by The Onion in January 2014, which subsequently became an exploitable catchphrase used on Tumblr to describe adorable, charismatic or otherwise sympathetic fictional characters.
Tide Pod Challenge
On December 8th, 2015, The Onion published a satirical opinion article about the appetizing package design of multi-colored laundry detergent pods, written from the point of view of a child struggling to resist his temptations to eat them.
In late 2017, the tongue-in-cheek concept of forbidden snacks blew up on the social media, with many trolls flooding Twitter and Facebook with jokes centered around the idea of snacking on laundry detergent pods, mainly due to their packaging and multi-colored appearance. There was a marked increase in YouTube videos and poison control center calls of people eating Tide Pods as part of the Tide Pod Challenge, as they really looked like a colorful snack. Facebook and Youtube eventually removed and banned all content pertaining to eating Tide PODS and anything but warnings against the Tide Pod Challenge.
"Not The Onion"
Not The Onion is a popular expression or catchphrase for expressing the opinion that a news story is so outlandish and unbelievable that it is reminiscent of an article published by The Onion. While the satirical newspaper has been in publication since 1988, the phrase "Not the Onion" did not come into prominence until the mid-00s. On October 25th, 2008, the subreddit /r/NotTheOnion launched. This page allowed users to submit bizarre and funny news articles that look like satire but were, in fact, real. As of July 2017, the subreddit had more than 12 million subscribers.
According to a press release in PRNewswire, TheOnion.com received 20,000 unique visitors per week shortly after the website launched in 1996. On January 10th, 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported that the site received around 7.5 million unique visitors per month. As of May 11th, 2012, the site has a Compete rank of 2,680, an Alexa rank of 3,868 and a Quantcast rank of 693. The Onion Facebook page has received over two million likes and the Twitter account has accumulated over 3.7 million followers.
 Washington Post – Onion Nation
 The Onion – The Onion – Americas Finest News Source
 PRNewswire –
Miramax Has Tears of Joy, Cutting First-Look Deal With The Onion
 Compete (via Wayback Machine) – theonion.com
 Alexa – theonion.com
 Quantcast – theonion.com (login needed)
 The Huffington Post – Onion News Network Canceled: IFC Spokesperson
 Literally Unbelievable – Literally Unbelievable
 Wired – Award-Winning Local Journalists Reflect Own Self-Hatred Back on Nightmarish World
 The Onion – Homosexual-Recruitment Drive Nearing Goal
 Wired – Award-Winning Local Journalists Reflect Own Self-Hatred Back on Nightmarish World
 The Onion – 58 Percent of U.S. Exercise Televised
 The Onion – Congress Threatens To Leave D.C. Unless New Capitol is Built
 Fox Nation – Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-Word E-Mail (deleted)
 The Onion – Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000 Word E-Mail
 Chicago Tribune – Blooming Onion
 CNN (via Wayback Machine) – The Onion – Funny Site is No Joke
 NY Mag – Writers at The Onion Refusing to Leave New York for Chicago
 New York Times – No Joke Syrians Hack the Onion
 The Onion – Hi in the past 2 years
 The Onion –
 CNET – Onion's Twitter account hacked by Syrian Electronic Army
 The Huffington Post – Onion Reportedly Hacked: Twitter, Facebook Say 'Syrian Electronic Army Was Here'
 TechCrunch – The Onion's Suspected Twitter Hack Reveals The Syrian Electronic Army's Morbid Humor
 Slate – The Onion Apparently Hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army
 NPR – Syrian Electronic Army Claims It Hacked 'The Onion'
 NY Times – Yes, People Really Are Eating Tide Pods. No, It’s Not Safe.
 Endgadget – Facebook and YouTube are removing 'Tide Pod Challenge' videos
Jun 01, 2015 at 03:39PM EDT
May 11, 2012 at 04:14PM EDT
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