The Onion’s chief: Nothing funny about taking away kids from parents

June 18, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Over the past 20 years, Chad Nackers has seen the rise of hypocritical statements, those irony-free assertions in which the entire universe yells, “That sounds like a headline from ‘The Onion’” — but isn’t.

The Onion’s editor-in-chief has always tried to mix the straight yuks with the knowing punch of satire, a similar challenge to the nation’s editorial cartoonists.

“We haven’t really changed anything we do,” Nackers said in an interview Monday, “but the world has been much crazier and absurd, and that’s what people should be worried about.”

Like Rob Rogers, the well-respected Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist fired after criticizing Trump, Nackers sees little humor in the Trump administration’s separation of children from their parents along the border. (Editors’ note: The Monday afternoon effort just hurts).

“There’s nothing funny about what’s going on,” Nackers says. For The Onion, that means “it’s a satirical commentary on things, rather than ‘let’s laugh about it.’”

One of its most cited examples of such biting commentary is the headline (below) that The Onion has used after every school schooling since 2014.

“Part of the reason for the repetition,” Nackers says, is that “nothing is changing, so you’re getting the same headline.”

God forbid if you are in The Onion’s sights.

Last week, Nackers loosed the hounds on Facebook, with which The Onion built an audience of 6.5 million — now only actually accessible if The Onion pays Facebook to send it to The Onion’s fans, Nackers says. That “betrayal” of loyal customers, Nackers says, comes as Facebook sold out America in the 2016 elections to the Russians “for such little money, in Facebook terms.”

On Thursday and Friday, the site published about a dozen “articles” about Facebook, including one written in the perspective of Mark Zuckerberg’s daughter:

On Monday, Nackers launched an interactive piece called OnionSocial.com, with requisite articles touting the site's world-leading popularity, genital recognition software and a 15-year-old MIT dropout CEO who, The Onion claims, is now dating Zuckerberg’s wife.

Nackers says he has not heard from Facebook. Frankly, he said, he’d rather train users to go to theonion.com or subscribe to its newsletter.

The newsletter can give you the latest headlines and presents it like a mini-publication, he said. Upon reflection, he added: “I’d rather just put five of them out every day.”

Quick hits

IT’S HIS: Billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong spoke to the Los Angeles Times newsroom after the deal with Tronc closed on Monday, announcing that Norman Pearlstine would be the executive editor. Pearlstine, a former top editor at Time Inc., Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, had been consulting with Soon-Shiong since April, researching the paper and meeting 70-some current and former staffers. The previous editor, Tronc’s Jim Kirk, chose to leave rather than take a lesser job at the paper. Jeff Light will remain publisher and editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune.

TRONC FINALLY REALIZES IT HAS A STUPID NAME: That’s the New York Post headline on the company’s decision to return to its previous name, Tribune Publishing. (At least it’s not IHOB.)

BACK ON AIR: At first his voice diminished to a squeak. Then it was gone entirely. Cox reporter Jamie Dupree had been working on the radio since the Reagan administration but suddenly couldn’t speak. A text-to-speech technology company crafted a new voice for Dupree: software that turns his typed sentences into spoken words. And it’s similar to his old voice; the company used audio recordings of his work to create it, the Associated Press' Brinley Hineman reports.

BOOST OR BOOSTED?: CJR reports some complaints about Facebook’s Community Boost conferences.

BETTER LIFE LAB: Economists say the way we work has become so stressful it’s the fifth leading cause of death. How do we get better? That’s the purpose of a new Slate podcast by Brigid Schulte, the author of “Overwhelmed,” a former Washington Post reporter and now director of the New America’s Better Life Lab. Although work is so stressful and conditions are often hazardous, few want to change it and “no one wants to quit,” James Pfeffer, a Stanford business professor, says in the first episode, which came out Friday.

WHY SO WHITE?: A review has found 750 charter schools with a pupil population that is far whiter than the district itself. Loose laws, writes Emmanuel Felton of the Hechinger Report, let scores of the publicly-funded charters create policies that favor white students. Those policies include items as prosaic as only allowing for bus transportation from white neighborhoods, Felton found. Editors: Is that the case in districts in your area?

What we’re reading

BOB DOLE’S FINAL MISSION: On Saturdays, the 94-year-old former senator travels to his usual spot: a shady place just outside the main entrance to the World War II National Memorial in Washington. From there, settled into his wheelchair, the recognition of him — and his service to the public — begins. By Steve Hendrix for The Washington Post.

VOTING FOR A CHANGE: Sick of corruption and sick of Donald Trump, Mexico turns its presidential hopes toward Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftist maverick. Former U.S. Ambassador Roberta Jacobson says she is unclear what type of policy changes he will make, but his economic circumstances stand apart from his rich predecessor. After she was appointed in 2016, she first met him at his unremarkable two-story townhouse in Tlalpan, a middle-class district in Mexico City. “If part of the point was to show me how modestly he lived, he succeeded,” she told The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson. 

THE PHOTO THAT BROKE HIS HEART: Photographer John Moore is a veteran journalist, but still had to catch his breath after a moment when a Border Patrol agent moved his hands across a 2-year-old Honduran girl's mom, who the U.S. would separate from her. The girl immediately began screaming. “I wanted to stop her crying," The Washington Post quoted Moore as saying.

What we're hearing

THE VOICES OF THE CHILDREN AT THE BORDER: This audio recording catches the sobs and cries of kids who have had their parents taken away in what Laura Bush has called President Trump's cruel, immoral, heart-breaking policy. The children inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility are 4 to 10 years old. The person who recorded it “heard the children’s weeping and crying, and was devastated by it,” Ginger Thompson and ProPublica reported.

On Poynter.org

Want to get this briefing in your inbox every weekday morning? Sign up here.

Got a tip, a link, a suggestion? We’re trying to make this roundup better every day. Please email me at dbeard@poynter.org.

Thanks to Ren LaForme for editing this.

And have a good Tuesday.