The Onion crosses the line

If a website known for biting satire issues an apology, should it be taken seriously? Or is it satire too?

Live by it, die by it, The Onion is learning.

In its Oscars tweetfest last night, The Onion used a vulgar term to describe 9-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis. She was nominated for her role in “Beast of the Southern Wild.”

JessicaLaShawn, a blogger at Chicago Now, saw racial overtones.

Why is this socially acceptable on social media? Are we “OK” with belittling minorities in such a fashion. I am aware that ‘The Onion’ is used to making headlines because of its humorous take on real life situations but where should we draw the line. What is the logic behind this type of language and what type of respect do we have and or are missing to refer to a child in such a fashion. This child’s night will be haunted by this tweet. I am sure her publicist and family have been made aware already.

Lets be clear, I am speaking from the perspective of a motivational speaker that attempts to teach young girls like Quvenzhane to love who they are, embrace their talents and be strong no matter what. When you see adults acting in such a disrespectful way how can you teach wrong from right? How can this girls mother let her know that this is just ignorance at its best? How can Ms. Wallis not be upset even if she doesn’t fully understand the debate brewing over this? You cant. You just have to know better and maybe, one day, understand but someone should be held accountable for this! I want every last person that vowed to boycott Kanye West when he cut Taylor Swift off to be as passionate about this little girl being disrespected. I know the two aren’t associated but they are equal in my eyes. Her moment was stolen too!

Today, The Onion apologized. We think.

Feb. 25, 2013

Dear Readers,

On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive–not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.

No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.

The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.

In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.

Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.


Steve Hannah


The Onion

On The Onion’s Facebook page, many commenters seemed bewildered by the need for an apology.


  • David

    Kudos to The Onion for apologizing.

    “We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again. … In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.”

    Should people be punished if they were operating within policy?

  • BJ

    //if they were operating within policy?

    I’m guessing under age kids getting called a 4 letter word is not policy.

  • jon

    I’m confused… why isn’t “Daniel Day-Lewis” getting an apology for being portrayed in satire as being pro-confederacy, and pro-slavery?

    How is that less racist/sexist then the a fore mentioned tweet? Is it because he isn’t a minority?

  • graham petersburg

    remember the outrage from this article? i can’t believe they went there again.


    oh wait nobody cares when we rip Paris. Why don’t we make a list of the protected people. Quvenzhané Wallis = Panda, Paris Hilton = grey squirrel.

    and i get she’s just a kid but racial overtones? i’m not seeing it.


  • Kassie

    BJ, I’m pretty sure kids get called four letter words quite often in The Onion.

  • John O.

    Most reasonable people would not use a term that many find highly offensive and derogatory towards a 9-year-old girl under any circumstance.

    Once upon a time, I had a 9-year-old daughter and I can assure you that anyone who used that word publicly–parody or not–to describe her at that point in her life would have put me into low earth orbit.

  • Disco

    The Onion is like George Carlin. Sooner or later, everyone will have been offended.

    I found the original tweet hilarious in its irony, and possibly because so many are offended by it, and even more hilarious because someone stupidly played the obligatory race card. “Oh, of COURSE it must have been racist because the kid’s BLACK! I mean, what other explanation could there be? I know, right?” I wonder what miniscule portion of a brain was required to come up with that half-baked response.

    An apology, sincere or otherwise, was unnecessary. There have been Onion articles where I thought they went from humorously satirical to a bit over-the-line. But that is what they do. They are fearless in their quest to lampoon every facet of society and to make fools of everyone and everything, masterfully highlighting the rank hypocrisy, especially in American culture and politics. They are a product of the First Amendment. I sleep better at night knowing that (A) there are people intelligent and witty enough to accomplish what they do and (B) that we afford them the rights to do it.

    Vive le Onion!

  • crossed the line? That word is so vile I didn’t think there could even be a line. I’m no prude and old enough to have heard this word far too many times, however, I can not think of a worse word,ever.

  • Kevin Watterson

    The Onion has been getting more and more tasteless for quite some time. I was done with it after the Bachmann “satire” last summer and some other cracks it has made about subjects that I think aren’t funny or fodder for mocking. I think it’s falling victim to the same thing a lot of faux-humour purveyors: Escalating vulgarity and constantly moving the line farther and farther in order to eclipse the last “funny” thing they said. True humourists don’t need to go there to begin with.

  • Disco


    I disagree. Read their article about the Pope resigning. It’s one of those Onion articles in which they nailed the truth so accurately that it’s no longer funny. It’s one of their best pieces of satire.

    Resigning Pope No Longer Has Strength To Lead Church Backward,31248/

  • Bonnie

    Seth what’s his name set the tone for the evening. Not a lot of smart funny was circulating last night. Not surprised others got caught up in the ugliness.

  • Christin

    I am all for protection of the 1st Amendment, even when it makes me uncomfortable. What the Onion did was not illegal and I am not asking for them to be censored by anyone but their own moral compass. What I am saying is that what was written was unethical. And it is equally as offensive for so many to defend the Onion by lecturing those who took offense about the definition of satire. Who decides when it is satire and when it is racism or sexism? I am not stupid and I can appreciate satire. I do not appreciate violent hate speech used against a 9 year old child and then having that speech be justified (or explained away) by a “post-racial” paradigm.

  • Heather

    They could have avoided the whole thing — and made the same point — by choosing another word. Stupid.

  • Kevin Watterson

    The papal article isn’t quite what I was referring to, but I’m not terribly amused by it. There are a lot of funnier angles to take than that, it’s just uncreative, not offensive.

  • Xopher

    That apology counts as the first time I’ve been offended by The Onion.