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The Onion Leaves a Bad Taste

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Posted At: March 4, 2013 1:50 P.M.
by Lindsey Green

News satirist The Onion is known for toeing the thin line between funny and downright offensive. The publication has made a name for itself with raunchy, politically incorrect articles and taboo topics, and its social media outlets follow the same wavelength.

However, its staff didn’t just toe the line with their tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis during last week’s Oscars ceremony — they ran, jumped and leaped far past it. There are plenty of funny inappropriate jokes out there, but calling the 9-year-old Best Actress nominee a crude word is not one of them.

When I first saw the tweet, I was confident that The Onion’s Twitter handle had been hacked. I didn’t think twice about considering that such a widely circulated publication would think something so deplorable was acceptable for a public joke. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The immediate backlash was so overwhelming that The Onion removed the tweet within the hour. Even with such a quick removal, the social media faux pas is far from forgotten. Responses to this PR nightmare can be found on most major news sites, but shockingly not all of them have condemned the incident.

David Carr of The New York Times is a highly respected writer and has more than 400,000 followers on Twitter, yet he didn’t seem to find anything wrong with the offending tweet. Call me conservative, but I don’t find it “edgy” or “funny” to call an innocent 9-year-old girl carrying a purse shaped like a puppy such a derogatory name.

With all of the flack that reporters get for their work, it is important for the media to understand their role as opinion leaders within their communities. They should not cause another round of backlash on top of an already unfortunate event. Making off-color jokes about a young girl is never in good taste and neither is making light of a serious situation by perpetuating the jovial attitude.

Although The Onion’s CEO issued a deeply apologetic statement the morning after the incident, the publication still has a long way to go before its readers and the general public will forget about such a poor choice. Social media should be used to build up an organization’s image, not tear down its esteem. I truly hope that The Onion and other satirical publications will learn from this mistake. It never hurts to think before you tweet so that those 140 characters don’t destroy your reputation.

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    I was floored when I saw the tweet, and it takes a lot to floor me. It being The Onion, they have a lot of leeway with what people are willing to let them say, but using that word is pretty much known to be off-limits and completely taboo. I think The Onion will be fine. On top of the apology (which is very un-Onion-y), I’m pretty sure they even fired the person who made the tweet so they aren’t taking this lightly.

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  2. Post comment

    I hadn’t heard any of this until I read your blog just now, and it is quite an interesting story. After clicking on the PR Daily link above and reading more, I’m still shocked. The disheartening fact is that some people are upset, not because of the tweet, but because The Onion apologized. Organizations really can’t make everyone happy these days, but more importantly, some people just have no decency. It’s unfortunate and does not speak well for our societal values.

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