Why Not Give The Onion A Pulitzer?

[ Posted Monday, June 20th, 2011 – 16:58 UTC ]

Along with a horde of Lefties, I was in Minneapolis this past week. But what I didn't realize was that a Minneapolis journalistic landmark was about to hit a milestone. One that I would trust more than any other news organization to adequately deal with that bizarre "landmark hitting a milestone" metaphor I just used (one can only imagine the headline they'd come up with, something along the lines of: "Jon Stewart Attacks Freeway Sign in Bizarre Case of Road Rage"). I speak (of course) of The Onion, and its recent one-thousandth issue -- which (as of this writing) is freely available as an actual printed newspaper on the streets of Minneapolis. More importantly, I also speak out in favor of the push they used this historic issue to launch -- to get their own Pulitzer Prize.

The Onion, of course, is satire. They were doing fake news long before Jon Stewart was even on the air. Being satirical, their campaign for a Pulitzer is heavily laced with humor. Humorous or not, though, they've got a serious point.

True to form, the movement for an Onion Pulitzer has set up its own website: "Americans for Fairness in Awarding Journalism Prizes" -- which is downright hilarious. Video clips are appearing on it from such luminaries as Tom Hanks and who-knows-who-else by the time this goes to press. My favorite clip is only 17 seconds long, from Arianna Huffington. [If you're reading this column in The Huffington Post, then quite obviously she hasn't made good on her threat... yet. Ahem.]

Although the "get The Onion a Pulitzer" site encourages people to upload their own video testimonials to YouTube, I chose instead to do so in writing. After all, this goes to the heart of the matter (more on this in a moment).

As for the supposed sanctity of the Pulitzer Prizes versus the cutting satire of The Onion (and its right to be recognized):

[He] strove to make [his publication] an entertaining read, and filled his paper with pictures, games and contests that drew in new readers. Crime stories filled many of the pages, with headlines like "Was He a Suicide?" and "Screaming for Mercy."

This is from Wikipedia, but it's not about the publisher of The Onion, it's about Joseph Pulitzer himself -- in the entry on "yellow journalism." The term came from the first-ever comic strip, which Pulitzer published as well (it was originally called "Yellow Kid journalism"). Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst used their newspapers to stampede the country into the Spanish-American War. A century later, the publications most often honored by Pulitzer Prizes went along for the ride of our Iraqi adventure in the same fashion -- which makes the point that today's regular Pulitzer honorees haven't come very far from the journalism practiced in Pulitzer's day.

This is reflected most sharply in the missives from the "publisher" of The Onion, the antediluvian "T. Herman Zweibel," who does not mince words about his contempt for the Pulitzer awards themselves: "...with the exception of Margaret Mitchell's excellent work of history, Gone With The Wind, every single person or publication to win the Pulitzer Prize has been undiluted sewage." He ends his most recent editorial, (titled "I Shall Now Exact My Final Revenge Upon That Jack-Ass Joseph Pulitzer") in his signature hyphen-heavy way:

So enjoy these Pulitzer-worthy offerings, you self-congratulatory, self-centered, self-styled intellectuals! Here are stories hewn from the very living bedrock of journalism, carved into perfect inverted pyra-mids by editorial masons, and held together with the honeyed mortar of earnest-ness and popular sentiment. If these are not worthy of Pulitzer's jumped-up, scrap-heap medallion, then I do not know what is.

Perhaps instead of demanding a Pulitzer, The Onion should create their own awards, in the tradition of the Razzie Awards for film? I could see the "Onion Prize" as something to aspire towards, personally.

Some will dismiss the Pulitzer campaign by The Onion as nothing more than cheap satire, or (even worse) a desperate bid by an organization to reclaim some of their earlier funniness. These are the same sort of people who vigorously debate which years of Saturday Night Live were the peak of comedic brilliance, I should mention. Some might even possibly point out that my support for the effort to get a Pulitzer for The Onion is self-serving, since if an award existed for biting sarcasm or downright snarkiness I might possibly strive for such myself in my own humble writings. But these sorts of nay-sayers are easily dismissed (by me, at least).

Satire and humor are important. Satirical written news deserves its own Pulitzer category. Who remembers the banner headlines of any major newspaper after the earth-shattering events on 9/11? The only one I personally remember headed The Onion that week: "Holy Fucking Shit: Attack On America". The same issue also carried such articles as: "God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule" and "Bush Sr. Apologizes To Son For Funding Bin Laden In '80s". None of these stories was actual "news" (as the Pulitzer folks define it), but it's easy to see they had potency and value to the public during a crucial time.

The ultimate argument -- not for awarding The Onion a Pulitzer Prize per se, but rather for creating a new category of prize (called perhaps "Satirical News Writing" or "Comedic News Writing") in which The Onion could compete each year -- is that the Pulitzer folks have been handing out an "Editorial Cartooning" prize since 1922. For almost 80 years, a Pulitzer Prize for humor (or, perhaps "snarkiness") has indeed existed. Which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that political or editorial humor is Pulitzer-worthy. The only difference is that the Pulitzers currently hand out a yearly award for drawn images, but not for the written word. To me, that's a difference without much distinction.

So while The Onion demanding a Pulitzer is funny on a certain level, on another more-serious level they've got a damned good point. Which led me to write this in the first place. I can't join in threatening the Pulitzer committee to hand over an award for The Onion right quick, or else -- but I can fully support their larger point: written satirical news is equally as worthy of a Pulitzer as a satirical drawn image. In other words, The Onion is right, and the Pulitzer folks should rectify the situation as soon as humanly possible. Satirical written news does indeed deserve the high honor of having its own Pulitzer category.


-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Why Not Give The Onion A Pulitzer?”

  1. [1] 
    dsws wrote:

    The field of major well-known contenders for a satirical-written-news prize isn't particularly large. The Onion would be in the running not just for a Pulitzer in that category, but for all of them. It seems more appropriate to expand the category to include at least Stewart and Colbert, if not to lump it together with editorial cartooning.

  2. [2] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Small note: this article made Slashdot. Luckily it points to the Huffington Post version as if it pointed here I probably would not be writing this as Chris's server would be in meltdown mode (slashdotted.)

  3. [3] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Small note: this article made Slashdot. Luckily it points to the Huffington Post version as if it pointed here I probably would not be writing this as Chris's server would be in meltdown mode (slashdotted.)

    Here, here!

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    dsws -

    I'm fine with the field being very small. Oops... my bias is showing... (as that'd be the only way I'd ever make the nomination!). Heh.

    BashiBazouk -

    Cool! Check out that Arianna video, it's in the same vein...


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