Peeling the Onion

USA Today, Tomorrow the World: Inside the only humor publication that matters

1. Prologue:
Cape Canaveral to Tom Bosley

MONDAY, FEB. 10, 2:17 P.M.: PARTIAL transcript for cover-story meeting, the Onion Volume 31, Issue 6.

In attendance: Scott Dikkers (SD), Editor in Chief; Robert Siegel (RS), Senior Editor; Mike Loew (ML), Graphics Editor.

SD: ... New Surveillance Satellite to Monitor Tom Bosley?

ML: Tom Bosley... Tom Bosley... The name sounds funny. And he's pudgy.

RS: I don't think anything about Tom Bosley is that inherently funny. Is there anyone else?

SD: Here's my problem. Whenever we choose a different name it's never any better than the one we started with.

RS: That's because you've already imprinted like a baby duckling.

SD: If you want to spend all day making some list that we're probably not going to use, and not go home to the wife, that's fine.

ML: I think I'm getting cold feet on Bosley now too.

RS: I don't think it's hilarious. I'm just not proud of the idea. It has good elements. The government. Silly celebrities. Satellites.

ML: For silly, I almost prefer Giant Beatnik Threatens Mount Bongos.

SD: I don't get it. What's a giant hippie?

RS: Not a hippie. A beatnik.

SD: And what's Mount Bongos?

ML: You've heard of bongos? Like drums...

SD: I don't know if this is a bad week or if we're just becoming immune to...

RS: or just fucking sick of...

SD: ... jokes. Has Mother Teresa died yet?

RS: No. But we're following it.

ML: That's a good story: Mother Teresa Sent to Hell in Afterlife Mix-up.

SD: The worst thing would be if she died on a Thursday. We should write that one ahead of time.

RS: Imagine if she did die on a Thursday and we came in and put the story together that day for the cover. Just like a real paper...

2. Mass Media

THE ONION IS NUMBER ONE IN NEWS and every word they print is true. Terrorist Bombing Damages Bob Dole's Outer Hull!: True. Pure Silk to Stream From Cindy Crawford's Ass!: Also true. Baseball Imposes Tough New "Three-Strikes-You're-Out" Rule!: Too True. Madonna Gives Birth to Million-Dollar Marketing Scheme!: A million dollars true.

Or as true as any other newspaper, anyway.

Q: Do the media ever lie?

Q: Could 4.1 million readers be wrong?

Check that number--4.1 million! Since the Onion went online last summer, some exponential things have been happening to the circulation. The reader-tracking is rough and the actual calculations... well, they've been invented for the purpose of this paragraph... but with 90,000 web page views a day, and 92,000 print readers in three Midwestern cities and 1,500 paid subscribers... yes! The Onion has 4.1 million readers!

And they're getting it. Just look at the press clippings tacked to the wall behind the receptionist's cubicle--or what would be the receptionist's cubicle if the Onion employed a receptionist, which it doesn't. Tacked to the wall below the busted "N" of the old Onion logo is the blurb from the Wall Street Journal, the Jerusalem Post... the capsule review from The New Yorker, which one staffer compared to "getting a blowjob from 800 angels"... and also Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, and Wired and Glamour... Duck! Full-office football toss, incoming!

Always with the footballs here, and not just in a forced merriment, anti-corporate, corporate environment where the adults--or for irony's sake, the "grown-ups"--engage in some high-intensity "release" to optimize their ergonomics and efficiency. None of that here. This is football for football's sake.

e.g.: Just the other week Mike Loew, the art director, called to say he'd been detained... a friend of a friend just met these strippers and said strippers are threatening to come over and... Do they fire him? First answer this: Did they fire him when he called to say he'd be late because at that particular moment some high-potency THC was lingering in his system from a bake-off the night before? Hell no. Mike's a stellar employee. Stellar--that's the word they use.

Besides, the Onion is not that kind of organization. Organization is even the wrong word for it. If Rob Siegel, the senior editor, had his way, everyone here would be drawing a paycheck just for being... himself. Like an artist's commune, almost, he says. Or at least that's what Rob claims until he finds himself in the office, alone, with a blank front page and a printer's deadline stalking him in a no-nonsense personal way.

But whenever Rob looks like his beloved A.P. stylebook is burning a chancre in his gut, it helps to remind him... that this is the Onion! Really--what legit newspaper ever received a Christmas card from the brothers at High Times magazine? Or a curt complaint from the president of the Catholic League, who has a few choice words to share about this Onion cover story "Pope Admits: God Ain't Said Shit to Me."

And the Catholic League is reading the Onion online: They're part of the 4.1 million! It's like that Onion template, "Everybody's Blanking," a satire of media trend fabrication. Everybody's Dressing Themselves. Everybody's Writing Brezhnev Biographies. Everybody's Digging Through Bomb Rubble Looking for Loved Ones. And now... Everybody's Reading the Onion.

Like USA Today, America's real paper of record, the only one the Onion subscribes to, which took a few words from its daily global-disinformation campaign to plug the product of sworn enemies. And soon there's going to be that article in the Columbia Journalism Review. Wait again--and this time not for the football, which is right now spiralling starboard off the entertainment editor's hand into the paste-up room--but is the Onion really going to be featured in the Columbia Journalism Review, the periodic encyclical of the high media cabal? Yes.

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