Headlines like “Drugs Win Drug War” have made the satirical news agency The Onion a household name. Young audiences tend to gravitate toward mock-news sources like “The Daily Show” and The Onion, and in an election year, headlines are ripe for parody. We check in with the editor of The Onion about its coverage of election 2012 and latest book, “The Onion Book of Known Knowledge.”


  • Will Tracy Editor, The Onion


  • 12:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Virginia ballot measures, eminent domain on trial. We'll talk with WAMU 88.5 reporter Michael Pope. But first, the satirical news agency The Onion became a household name with headlines like "Drugs Win Drug War." Young audiences in particular tend to gravitate toward mock news sources like "The Daily Show" and The Onion, with many counting these as their main news sources.

  • 12:07:26

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn an election year, political news is particularly right for parody, but this kind of comedy is hard work. And coming up with funny headlines day in and day out is not easy. And along with their online publication, the writers at The Onion have been hard at work on a new book, an encyclopedia. And joining us to discuss it is Will Tracy. Will Tracy is editor of The Onion, and its latest book is called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." Will Tracy joins us by phone from Chicago. Will, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:59

    MR. WILL TRACYOh, thank you for having me on.

  • 12:08:01

    NNAMDIWill, tomorrow is the presidential election. Do you think a Mitt Romney presidency would be funnier to parody than a second term of Barack Obama?

  • 12:08:09

    TRACYI think only in terms of him being new. I think when you spend, you know, three, four years with the same person, you begin to kind of maybe exhaust the well a little bit. And so I think there might be with a new president simply some more inspiration purely because he's new. But I think we try not to -- I mean, this is easier said than done.

  • 12:08:33

    TRACYBut we try not to hit one person more than any other. And I think what we try to do is take a step back and maybe satirize the entire scene or the way politics is covered by the media in our country or just American democracy in general.

  • 12:08:48

    NNAMDIAfter the last election, The Onion came up with a memorable headline "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job." Presumably, you're already discussing headline options for the day after the election. Care to share any that you're considering?

  • 12:09:03

    TRACYOh, yeah. I mean, I'm forbidden from sharing. But we have cooked up all kinds of stuff. We have to do this way in advance. In fact, we actually have to work out an entire issue in case Barack Obama wins, an entire issue in case Mitt Romney wins. We did the same thing in 2008, and we actually have a mockup somewhere of a full issue in case John McCain had won the election. So we really have to prepare ourselves comedically for any eventuality. So we've spent the last week just kind of exhaustively brainstorming different jokes that we could do.

  • 12:09:37

    NNAMDIWell, give me your best Virgil Goode line. He is the presidential candidate in the commonwealth of Virginia.

  • 12:09:43

    NNAMDIDo you have any headlines prepared for if Virgil Goode happens to take this election?

  • 12:09:48

    TRACYI do not have anything on him. We have...

  • 12:09:51

    TRACYWe have lines on dozens of other people in case they win, including John Edwards. We have something in case John Edwards wins. We never -- you never know, but...

  • 12:10:00

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Will Tracy, editor of The Onion. The Onion's latest book is called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." And we're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you have any questions for Will Tracy? Have you read any of The Onion books, "The Atlas" or "Our Dumb Century?" 800-433-8850.

  • 12:10:20

    NNAMDIYou can also send email to kojo@wamu.org, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. Will, The Onion does take on sensitive topics. How do you make sure you're not crossing the line into bad taste to being offensive?

  • 12:10:39

    TRACYWell, I think we try to be very careful about the targets that we choose for our jokes. We're not scared of any one topic. In fact, we oftentimes jump at the chance to make a joke about something that's a little bit taboo or if something happens in the news and it's particularly sensitive or tragic, I think The Onion prides itself on kind of being the first place to say it's OK to make a joke or it's OK to laugh about this or it's OK to -- it's OK.

  • 12:11:11

    TRACYI think that's sort of one of our missions, but it does involve really looking at any news event or any topic and saying, OK, well, who or what should the target of this joke be? And 'cause it generally tends to be just cruel and wrong-headed to target the victim, so we try to find something that is worthy of our -- of being a target. And then, hopefully, when people see that joke, instead of feeling offended by it or hurt by it, it will actually have almost a cathartic effect. It'll make people feel better, relieve anxiety.

  • 12:11:43

    NNAMDIBut I suspect that a lot of the feedback you get is from people who do feel offended by one joke or another.

  • 12:11:49


  • 12:11:50

    NNAMDIHow do you handle that?

  • 12:11:52

    TRACYWell, I mean, you can't get -- in comedy, you cannot get away from that. And typically, I think, especially with satire, if you're not offending some people, then you're really not doing your job and that satire is probably pretty toothless or just feeding back sentiment to people that they already feel. It's not giving them anything challenging. It's not surprising them. It's just telling them what they already think. And I think sometimes that is -- leads to pretty weak or feeble satire, in my opinion. So you're going to offend some people. That's just a given.

  • 12:12:26

    NNAMDIIran's news agency published a story in September that used The Onion as a source, apparently mistaking The Onion article for a serious news source. What was that story about?

  • 12:12:36

    NNAMDIYeah. The story was about -- the -- I don't remember the exact wording of the headline, but the story basically said -- it was a point when Obama was not polling well in the Midwest. We said, according to a recent poll, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was polling better than Obama in the American Midwest. And then an Iranian news source, an official state news agency, no less, picked that story up and ran it essentially unedited, like -- as though they'd written it.

  • 12:13:10

    TRACYAnd that -- I mean, this happens a lot where people think that we're real, or kind of a local American regional newspaper will pick us up as being real. But for an actual state news agency to pick us up, like Iran did, is a pretty big deal. So we actually kind of responded to it by saying the Iranian news agency Fars is actually a subsidiary of The Onion, Inc.

  • 12:13:33

    TRACYThat's our Middle Eastern bureau, and so therefore we are working in cahoots. And we support the work that they are doing, and we support the Iranian government. So that was sort of the way we handled that. We usually don't respond, but in that case, we kind of had to.

  • 12:13:48

    NNAMDIThat article even quoted a West Virginia resident saying he'd rather go to a ballgame with the Iranian president than with President Obama.

  • 12:13:56

    TRACYThat's right.

  • 12:13:57

    NNAMDIWhat do you...

  • 12:13:58


  • 12:13:58

    NNAMDIWhat do you make of the fact that so many young people, a really large number of young people, get their news from satirical outlets like yours and "The Daily Show?"

  • 12:14:06

    TRACYI mean, I think it makes a little bit more sense with "The Daily Show" because "The Daily Show" is different from The Onion in that they -- every night, they talk about the real news, and Jon Stewart will kind of give commentary on that news and make jokes about the real news. The Onion essentially is different 'cause we're not just making jokes about the news. We are making up the news entirely. We are giving people fake news events. So we're really not reporting the news. We're reporting complete fiction.

  • 12:14:39

    TRACYSo in our case, I'd like to think that people go to The Onion and read our stories with already a little bit of knowledge of the events that we are satirizing, or else they probably just want to make sense to them. And in the case of "The Daily Show," you know, I do think that with both "The Daily Show" and The Onion, without sounding too pretentious here, I do think that that satire can occasionally be a little bit more honest and cutting and truthful than mainstream news.

  • 12:15:13

    TRACYI'm not saying always. I -- you know, I support most mainstream news organizations, but I do think that sometimes with satire, it can just cut through and give you the subtext or the hidden truth that you don't actually find in news.

  • 12:15:30

    NNAMDIWhich is why it can be so powerful. We're talking with Will Tracy. He is the editor of The Onion. He joins us by phone from Chicago. The latest book by The Onion is called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." If you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Are you a fan of The Onion? Why, or why not? Do you watch satirical news programs? 800-433-8850.

  • 12:15:54

    NNAMDIAnd then there's this: What headline would you propose for the day after the election? You can also send us email to kojo@wamu.org or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Onto the business at hand, Will Tracy. Your latest book is an encyclopedia. Why did you and The Onion team decided to do an encyclopedia?

  • 12:16:14

    TRACYWell, we felt we had completely conquered the world of news and current events, and therefore it was now our responsibility really to create a tome that contained all the world's knowledge.

  • 12:16:25

    NNAMDIMakes perfect sense.

  • 12:16:25

    TRACYSo we are now the experts on everything. All information, we are now the experts on. And there are over 1,500 entries in the book. Everything that exists in the world is in this book. And, in fact, and even if it's not in the book, does not actually exist. That is what we've been telling people, so it...

  • 12:16:43


  • 12:16:43

    TRACYYes. Sorry. Go ahead.

  • 12:16:45

    NNAMDII was about to say it's an even bigger work than that because you also include some things and people who actually don't exist at all in this book.

  • 12:16:53

    TRACYYes. No. We were -- we try to be very open-minded, so we included things also that are purely imaginary and fictitious and have never existed. We felt that was really fair to not just give coverage to things that are real but things that are completely made up.

  • 12:17:08

    NNAMDIHow did you decide what to leave out?

  • 12:17:12

    TRACYWell, we knew -- when you're doing -- I mean, we knew, with an encyclopedia, that the appeal of doing a book like this for us is that we weren't limited. We didn't just have to make jokes about today and the zeitgeist and the news. And in past books, you know, we did an atlas, which that was obviously focused on geography and countries. And with this book, though, the encyclopedia, the appeal of it was that we can make a joke about absolutely anything.

  • 12:17:38

    TRACYWe could make jokes about outer space. We can make jokes about the 15th century. We can make jokes about potatoes, you know, an entry on potato. We could do that. And so there was -- it was a challenge. You're right. Because it's like, OK, well, you have to draw the line somewhere. And so we drew up a list of things we knew we had to have, the kind of the big ones, you know. And if you're doing an encyclopedia, you have to have an entry on God or World War II or, you know, the sun.

  • 12:18:09

    TRACYSo we knew we had to have those. And then once we hit all those, then it was sort of just time to play a little bit. That was when we could just do an entry on anything we wanted or entirely make up stuff. And that was probably the stuff we had the most fun with was that, once we covered the big ones, it's like, OK, now, write whatever you want. If you have an entry on apple, write an entry on that, or if you have an entry on, you know, antelope, write an entry on that. Go ahead.

  • 12:18:38

    NNAMDIWell, you...

  • 12:18:38

    TRACYSo that was -- yeah.

  • 12:18:40

    NNAMDIYou've got all kinds of storylines throughout. Can you talk a little bit about that, and who the heck is Caroline?

  • 12:18:47

    TRACYYeah. One of the things that we wanted to do is actually one of my favorite elements of the book is that, even though it's an A to Z encyclopedia and you can open it up to any page -- you don't have to read it in order it all. If you do go through the book, you will notice three or four kind of running storylines that go throughout the book. One of them is if you -- in multiple entries, you'll notice this name Caroline will keep popping up.

  • 12:19:12

    TRACYAnd an entry on San Diego, for instance, will just start out talking about the city of San Diego, will kind of slowly devolve into an entry in which the writer of the entry is talking with great tenderness and heartbreak about what is clearly a former girlfriend of his named Caroline. And throughout the book, there are multiple entries that touch on this one writer or editor's infatuation with this woman he's -- who he's never gotten over. So Caroline shows up throughout the book.

  • 12:19:41

    TRACYThere's also sort of an ominous sci-fi narrative involving an orb that carries throughout the book that involves some sort of futuristic elements. There is a hard-boiled, private-eye novel that you can actually go through the entire encyclopedia, and there's a full mystery that loops back on itself, a full kind of 1940s private-eye mystery. So we have little things like that -- we called them runners -- little things that run throughout the book that kind of give sort of added value to the book and make it feel a little bit more special.

  • 12:20:13

    NNAMDIWell, thank you for including Caroline in what is now my known knowledge also. Let's move on to the telephones. We will start with Tim in Salisbury, Md. Tim, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:25

    TIMOne point and one question. I think one of the best things that you've ever done is your historical headlines, where last year it was "World's Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-berg." That was great. And I am wondering whether or not on after -- either after the election or an inauguration day, you may run an article about the fact that President Romney has decided that the United States has not been sufficiently profitable, so he's selling the West Coast states -- the three West Coast states to China.

  • 12:20:55

    TIMNew England is bought by the European Union. And Florida has been sold after tough negotiations to Russia. It's the sort of thing I would think would not be out of place in your periodical, which I thoroughly enjoy. And I thank you for doing it.

  • 12:21:09

    NNAMDITim, how would you headline that story yourself, Tim?

  • 12:21:11

    TIMNo, no. Well, I'd be glad to, you know, but, you know?

  • 12:21:14

    NNAMDIWill, would you take Tim's story under advisement? Tim might be also applying for a writing job with you.

  • 12:21:22

    TRACYI mean, we have certainly done -- I mean, that's been obviously the angle to hit with Romney, is this -- the money thing, just over and over and over and treating America like a business. We've done multiple stories that have been around that angle. I mean, 'cause it's just so rich, you know. And he's such a plutocrat that anyone who just thinks in that way -- and he's made it clear on multiple occasions that he does think in that way in terms of assets, in terms of business management. So it's been kind of hard to stay away from.

  • 12:21:53

    TRACYYou know, in terms of the China thing, we just did one recently, "U.S. Declares Dependence on China," which we actually signed the declaration of dependence on China officially. And with Romney, we've done multiple things that are sort of along those lines and because it's worth pointing out. I mean, it is really worth pointing out his corporate experience, obviously his views on welfare and on the middle-class and his seeming unawareness that a lower class even exists.

  • 12:22:31

    TRACYSo all that stuff has been kind of a gold mine for us, and, of course, if he were elected, that would be one of the angles that you'd sort of have to hit.

  • 12:22:40

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Tim. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Will Tracy. He is editor of The Onion, the satirical news organization whose latest book is called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." You can call us at 800-433-8850, if you have questions or comments for the editor of The Onion. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:25:07

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Will Tracy, editor of The Onion, the satirical news organization whose latest book is called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." Go directly to the phones and talk with Steven in Fairfax, Va. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:25:24

    STEVENHi. I just want to say first that I'm a big fan. And my question is how do you decide which shows to parody? For instance, you parody "Antiques Roadshow" with Lake George appraisal and also nature shows and something like "Big Brother" and "Sex House."

  • 12:25:42

    TRACYSure. Well, thanks for saying you're a fan, first of all. And with those, those shows were all done for a partnership that we did with YouTube. And we did a series of videos that are sort of parodies of television shows that you see out there. And, you know, it's tricky. I mean, some of it is just probably just budgetary reasons. If we're being totally honest, there are certain things that are less expensive to parody, obviously an "Antiques Roadshow" kind of thing being one of them.

  • 12:26:11

    TRACYAnd even a nature show, which is mainly kind of images and voiceover. But I think it's just something where you feel that if you can lock that kind of Onion voice into it. Something that's very dry is obviously usually great for The Onion. So, obviously, a parody of "Antiques Roadshow" is perfect. A parody of kind of nature show is perfect, anything that has sort of a dry, straight, serious, authoritative tone, like those shows or like a newspaper or like an encyclopedia.

  • 12:26:39

    TRACYAll those things are perfect for our voice to kind of, like, latch on to. So that's probably one of the considerations. And we also are doing a parody of "TED Talks" called "Onion Talks," which you can also find those on YouTube. And, similarly, it's -- anything where it's a person authoritatively declaring something very seriously, that is perfect for our voice. That is our voice.

  • 12:27:05

    NNAMDISteven, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:27:07

    STEVENThank you.

  • 12:27:08

    NNAMDIAnd, Will, you will notice that Steven simply said, I'm a fan. He didn't say whether he was a fan of The Onion or a fan of this broadcast so...

  • 12:27:14

    TRACYThat's true. That's true. He might just be a fan of "Antiques Roadshow."

  • 12:27:18

    NNAMDINo, a fan of this show. Steven, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:27:21

    TRACYOh, sorry. I'm so sorry.

  • 12:27:23

    NNAMDIHere we move on to Ron in Manassas, Va. Ron...

  • 12:27:26

    TRACYYou actually have fans. And whenever I hear anyone say anything like that, it's very surprising that...

  • 12:27:31

    NNAMDIAnd we may only have one fan on this show. Here's -- and that would be me. Ron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:27:37

    RONYes. I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful and informative piece you did on the second generation Disney kid factory. Poor Zac Efron, I really saw him in a different light and really felt for him after that. I just wanted to thank you. That's really wonderful.

  • 12:27:54

    TRACYOh, you bet, of course. I don't actually remember that. Sometimes there's something that comes up, and I don't remember it. But I'm sure that we did that. I'm sure that's the real thing.

  • 12:28:03

    NNAMDIRon, thank you for your call. Will, how long did this book take to write?

  • 12:28:09

    TRACYThis, two years, and we were kind of -- you know, we couldn't stop the regular Onion while we were doing it. We had to continue putting up a newspaper on the website. So while we were doing that, we were -- the whole staff was writing and creating this book. But it was, you know -- and maybe I'm misremembering the period now, but it was, I think, even comparison to past books that we've done, it was a really enjoyable and somewhat painless process of writing. We all just really love doing it.

  • 12:28:39

    TRACYWe didn't feel constrained by the process at all. We felt, I think, pretty much consistently inspired throughout that two-year period. So I don't know. I think that we're all very proud for that reason. I think it's the kind of thing where none of us, when we see the book now, feel like, I can't even look at it. I think we're all kind of delighted whenever we leaf through the book.

  • 12:29:00

    NNAMDIIt's called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." and our guest is Will Tracy, editor of The Onion. Here is Dennis in Falls Church, Va. Hi, Dennis.

  • 12:29:10

    DENNISHey, hello, guys. Thanks for this great show. First of all, I want to thank Will for publishing those books. I already have the atlas. And it fits perfectly under one of the legs of my work desk. It's still a bit wobbly, so I'm really looking forward to the other book coming out.

  • 12:29:27

    TRACYIt's about the same size, so...

  • 12:29:29

    DENNISI also wonder how thick it is. I have a question for you. The question is, how does editorial process work at The Onion? You know, what -- I'm talking about, like, self-censorship in a way, like some of the things -- how do you assess whether they are politically correct or not? And do you have any story that you decided you're just not going to joke about?

  • 12:29:54


  • 12:29:55

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Will.

  • 12:29:57

    TRACYYeah. I mean, it's -- as we were talking about earlier, it's largely a process of having the whole staff come in with a bunch of headlines whenever something happens that is a particularly sensitive issue. And again, we sort of -- we actually enjoy that process. And we usually always get something that we feel works, and it's usually -- it's a talk amongst the staff. And we're all -- you know, we're not sociopaths. We're all sensitive, thoughtful human beings.

  • 12:30:28

    TRACYSo I think we all have the sense of, like, well, we can't do that or, oh, this one's OK. And I think we try to think of it as just stepping back from the fray and maybe making a comment about how the media is covering an event, a tragic event. That's always -- that tends to be a good outlet for us, is just -- instead of making a joke that's necessarily our opinion, we can sort of look at what the media has done and how they've coalesced around a certain opinion and say, well, that's silly or that's absurd or that's stupid that they're all saying this.

  • 12:31:07

    TRACYBut, yeah, I mean, we -- it's -- there's not really a process. It's pretty organic now 'cause we've been doing it for so long that we almost have built-in radar for, oh, that joke is too far or that joke just isn't funny. In my opinion, a joke that goes too far in a very, very offensive direction and doesn't have the right target, it's not funny to me anyway. So it wouldn't get pitched.

  • 12:31:33

    NNAMDIDennis, you asked about the size of the book. This is, you should know, the 183rd Imperial Edition, so...

  • 12:31:40

    TRACYThat's right. It's...

  • 12:31:42

    DENNISIt's perfect. It's perfect.

  • 12:31:44

    TRACYIt about the same dimensions as the atlas, about the same dimensions, and actually, the great thing about it is it really does look like an edition, you know, a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

  • 12:31:51


  • 12:31:54

    TRACYWe -- our publisher, Little Brown, was actually really great about that. They were really into the concept of making this book look like not a comedy book. There's nothing about the book necessarily that's really anatomical.

  • 12:32:05

    NNAMDIIt looks very imperial, Dennis. I cower before this book.

  • 12:32:10

    DENNISSo, Kojo, may I throw in another question very quickly?

  • 12:32:12

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 12:32:13


  • 12:32:14

    DENNISWhat about the latest hurricane? Would you touch that subject at all or do you think nothing could be non-offensive to people and yet funny?

  • 12:32:24

    TRACYNo. We did a variety of things on the hurricane. I think that there are ways to go with that.

  • 12:32:27


  • 12:32:29

    TRACYAnd we did also a number of larger stories that I think were more not laugh out loud, you know, stories. They were more sort of, I guess, what you call think pieces as opposed to just sort of, you know, gut-busting, hilarious comedy stories. I mean, comedy can go a lot of different ways, especially satire. It's not always, you know, cry with laughter kind of comedy. Sometimes it's crying with sadness sort of comedy. I mean, there are really few ways that you can go with it. So, no, that was...

  • 12:32:59

    NNAMDIIndeed. Dennis, I can read a couple of -- I can read a headline -- a couple of headlines for you from the online Onion. "Atlantic City faces long recovery before it can start destroying lives again." That's one. Another is, "Hurricane Sandy, nation suddenly realizes this is just going to be a thing that happens from now on." So, yes, they have made fun of it.

  • 12:33:18

    NNAMDIDennis, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Join our conversation with Onion editor Will Tracy about The Onion's latest book. It's called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." There are some 1,500 or more entries in this book, Will. What are a few of your personal favorites?

  • 12:33:38

    TRACYWell, you know, a couple of ones that I like, which seemed apropos of the moment are some of the, you know, election and American government-themed ones. We have an entry on Electoral College. It reads, "Electoral College, flawed system that everyone agrees is obsolete but is thankfully only used to elect the president of the United States."

  • 12:34:00

    NNAMDIYes. I saw that one.

  • 12:34:01

    TRACYAnd then we had one on all the presidents. We put every single U.S. president in the book. So there's one on Barack Obama that I can read now.

  • 12:34:16

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 12:34:17

    TRACY"Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States, who, for the first time in American history, gave racists the opportunity to despise the most powerful man on the planet. By becoming the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office, Obama achieved a significant milestone for the nation's bigots, who were previously only able to spew hatred against prominent black athletes, entertainers, social activists and secretaries of state." So it's basically about...

  • 12:34:44

    TRACY...this moment in which finally racists were allowed -- were given the opportunity to say horrible, vitriolic racist things against the most powerful person in the world.

  • 12:34:55

    NNAMDIOn to the phones again. Here is Ernest in Alexandria, Va. Ernest, your turn.

  • 12:35:02

    ERNESTHey, Kojo, Will, first off...

  • 12:35:04


  • 12:35:04

    ERNEST...major props to both of you for your relative shows. The Onion, I know, actually does shows online also. Got a question for Will. Do you see yourself as providing a valuable public service? I get my news from everywhere, but I have to say, news from The Onion and "The Daily Show" and other sources like that often seems to me to be the most incisive. And there's something called the benign violation theory in psychology which says that humor might be a way of people saying things that look dangerous aren't really. And I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 12:35:38

    NNAMDIOK. Here's Will Tracy.

  • 12:35:40

    TRACYI mean, I do think it's one of those things I don't like to think about too much and the staff doesn't like to think about too much 'cause at the end of the day, it's really important to us that we're just very funny. But, yeah, of course, I mean, if we're being honest, yeah, I do think that satire and hopefully The Onion does provide a public service and does make people think about issues maybe in a way they didn't before or maybe pointing out an element of our culture or our political life that is usually left unsaid.

  • 12:36:16

    TRACYOr something like that hurricane story, you know, the nation suddenly realizes this is just going to be a thing that happens from now on and that we show above that there are pictures of hurricane damage and flooded city streets. And that's sort of a thing -- I think the reason why people like that story is 'cause that's something that's kind of in the back of people's mind when this happens, but you don't actually see it on the front page of a newspaper in a big headline.

  • 12:36:42

    TRACYAnd The Onion is able to do that because we don't have to follow the same rules that journalists do. We can just come out and say something like that and put it in a news voice instead of an editorial voice. So, yeah, I think we've tried to serve a public service. But at the end of the day, we try to also a little bit ignore that 'cause we just want to be funny.

  • 12:37:06

    NNAMDIHere is Steve asking a question that I know a lot of people have, given what you do every day. Steve, it's your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:15

    STEVEThanks, Kojo. I'm a fan of both The Onion and your show.

  • 12:37:18

    TRACYAll right.

  • 12:37:19


  • 12:37:21

    TRACYThere we go.

  • 12:37:21

    STEVEI just wanted know…

  • 12:37:21

    NNAMDIHad to beg for it.

  • 12:37:23

    STEVEI just want to know, how big is The Onion staff, and do you take a freelance articles? Not that I'm a writer. I'm an engineer, and we know how we write.

  • 12:37:34

    NNAMDIMust be challenging to generate so much content day after day, so I guess a lot of people have that question, Will. How many people on the staff?

  • 12:37:41

    TRACYIt's a very -- our writing staff for the newspaper and the website is very, very small. The actual staff is, at the moment, you know, less than 10 people. And we have contributors beyond that who are working with us on a freelance basis. And, you know, there are dozens of those or a few dozen of those. But the main staff is actually very, very small.

  • 12:38:09

    TRACYAnd there's not a whole lot of turnover typically. And in order to get on the staff, it's this long, torturous process in which you have to first be sponsored to be a freelancer, and then you have to do that for a while until you prove yourself. And then you eventually make it on the staff, and then you have to eventually murder people to get ahead in line.

  • 12:38:29

    NNAMDIMakes sense.

  • 12:38:29

    TRACYSo it's just sort of -- it usually involves a lot of writing and a lot of murder.

  • 12:38:33

    NNAMDIA lot of dead bodies along the...

  • 12:38:35

    TRACYYeah, a lot of dead -- I've killed 20 or 30 people since I've gotten here, so that's very common.

  • 12:38:38

    NNAMDIThe newspaper business is struggling. Will, Newsweek just stopped publishing a print version, and most of journalism is struggling with cutbacks. How has satirical news fared? I suspect The Onion is probably thriving.

  • 12:38:52

    TRACYI mean, it's the -- well, you know, we're -- at the end of the day, we're in a different business than, like, "The Daily Show," which is a television show, you know, supported by Comedy Central, which is supported by Viacom, which is -- you know, so it's a big corporate enterprise. And, you know, The Onion is a privately owned independent company that -- we don't -- we're not a TV show. We're still a, you know, a conventional, traditional print and Web media company.

  • 12:39:22

    TRACYSo, in a way, we're not -- it's not like we're unaffected by all that stuff that is affecting regular newspapers. Even though we're fake news, it's still a business of ad sales and readership and a changing media landscape. We're part of all that. So it's not like we're exempt from it even though we're making fun of it. But it's fun for us to make fun of print media dying while we're a part of that. We're part of that whole structure.

  • 12:39:52

    NNAMDIBut it says here The Onion is the most dominant media organization in the world with an annual revenue of $350 billion.

  • 12:39:58

    TRACYWell, that's' true. No, I mean, I'm trying to be nice to...

  • 12:40:04


  • 12:40:04

    TRACYI'm trying to be nice to The New York Times and some of these other publications because, in a way, you do have to pity them because they have to work in a media landscape that is dominated by The Onion Inc., not just in America, but worldwide. As you said, you know, our annual profits are $350 billion. We're, at this point, not only the most powerful media organization in the world, but probably just the most powerful company, period.

  • 12:40:28

    TRACYSo even something like in this election, you can see The Onion has its fingerprints all over it. I mean, we could pretend if we want, just for the sake of argument, that we live in a democracy, but we don't. We really live in a plutocracy that is largely controlled by The Onion. So, yes, of course, you're right. We are the most powerful company in the world.

  • 12:40:45


  • 12:40:45

    TRACYBut, you know, I try to answer these questions sensitively so that someone at The New York Times doesn't feel completely suicidal.

  • 12:40:53

    NNAMDIGot it. What was your own path to The Onion, Will?

  • 12:40:56

    TRACYI was -- well, let's see, I was an intern first. I really didn't plan on getting into comedy. I knew I wanted to write, but I didn't know I wanted to be a comedy writer per se. So I was an intern at The Onion in New York. Before that, I had worked in publishing. I worked at Random House books and was promptly fired from that job for, I think, general lack of interest was the company line on that one.

  • 12:41:21

    TRACYAnd so I was just kind of casting about for something to do. I was an Onion fan. I worked as an intern for a few months and then kind of worked up the moxie to throw some of my jokes to an editor. And then they, you know, started accepting more and more, and then, eventually, I made my way on staff about, I don't know, maybe three-and-a-half or four years ago. So it was -- you know, it was a fairly quick path. It just involved, you know...

  • 12:41:47

    NNAMDIWell, several dead bodies along the way.

  • 12:41:48

    TRACYSeveral dead bodies that we -- I don't want to keep, you know -- 'cause I do -- with respect to the dead, I don't want to keep bringing up. But, yes. Yeah. No, I got really good at killing, so…

  • 12:41:57

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Kurt in Littleton, Colo., who says, "I'm glad that institutions like The Onion are still able to exist in our world. They carry the standard that used to be carried by the likes of Mel Brooks and Mad Magazine. In an overly sensitive society where everyone and everything is seemingly off-limits, i.e. not politically correct, they point out the obvious in all of us, which is often very, very funny.

  • 12:42:22

    NNAMDI"Thank you to The Onion and its obviously brilliant and all-knowing staff. I certainly endorse those remarks." Kurt adds, "Headline for post-election: Architect of Obamacare defeats architect of Obamacare."

  • 12:42:38

    TRACYOh, that's clever. There was a little switch.

  • 12:42:38

    NNAMDIThat's -- I thought so, too. I thought so, too. And we're out of time, but we got one last email from someone who wants to propose marriage to you, saying that she's told she looks like Cleopatra. Oh, no, that's just our call screener fooling around. Will Tracy, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:42:56

    TRACYThank you so much for having me on. Appreciate it.

  • 12:42:58

    NNAMDIWill Tracy is editor of The Onion, the satirical news organization, whose latest book is called "The Onion Book of Known Knowledge." When we come back, we'll be talking about Virginia politics and some of the ballot measures that Virginians will be voting from -- on. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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