Some may have believed The Onion when it broke the spoof news of U.S. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson’s death, but that satirical approach is what attracts fans.
At the first event of this year’s student-funded University Lecture Series (ULS), The Onion’s Joe Randazzo and Will Graham spoke to students and faculty in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theatre on Thursday night.
ULS coordinators felt it was fitting for representatives of The Onion to speak Thursday since it marked Constitution Day, said Cindy Greenwood, assistant director for the Office of Student Programs.
The Onion published an article in June reporting that Johnson’s parents put her to sleep after she broke her leg, said Graham, executive producer and director of Onion News Network.
The untrue story spread on MySpace, and Johnson’s publicist called Graham to say, “So, you killed my client.”
Sara Alnasur, a sophomore majoring in political science who attended the lecture, said that’s what The Onion does – give a different view, unlike real news.
“(My friends) sit (around) and our most interesting conversations are (about) The Onion,” Alnasur said.
“I was really excited about (the event),” Alnasur said. “(The Onion stories are) funny … They joke, but what if?”
During the one-hour lecture, Randazzo and Graham shared examples of The Onion’s past controversial work, including former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and made-up products like the popular “MacBook wheel computer.”
During a question-and-answer session, Alnasur asked if there were any repercussions from past news stories.
Lawyers have left messages claiming lawsuits if The Onion didn’t call back within 10 minutes, Graham said. He said he ignored the calls and hasn’t heard from lawyers since.
Randazzo said that it would be bad “PR” for whoever sues because they are suing The Onion, and unlike mainstream media, it doesn’t have restrictions because of its satirical nature.
Two University of Wisconsin students started The Onion in 1988, said Randazzo, The Onion’s head editor.
“It started off a little goofy, and then progressed into more of a parody of The New York Times,” he said.
Jordan Stone, a senior majoring in philosophy, said it’s not the content but The Onion’s comedy that matters.
“They somewhat inform you, but it’s mainly for entertainment,” Stone said. “We laugh at those who take entertainment seriously.”
Other students like Christian LaFleur, a junior majoring in business management, share that attitude toward The Onion.
“I thought it was hilarious,” LaFleur said. “I almost fell out of my chair.”