The Absurdity of Actual Events Is Eclipsing Parody*

R.VanWagoner
10 min readOct 16, 2022

It’s seldom a laughing matter when reality mimics parody

Playing Doctor or Bless Their Little Hearts, Watercolor, 38.5" x 48.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

The Onion self-identifies as “America’s Finest News Source” and “the world’s leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events.” It claims to support “more than 350,000 full- and part-time journalism jobs in its numerous news bureaus and manual labor camps stationed around the world, and members of its editorial board have served with distinction in an advisory capacity for such nations as China, Syria, Somalia, and the former Soviet Union. . . . The Onion’s keen, fact-driven reportage has been cited favorably by one or more local courts, as well as Iran and the Chinese state-run media.”

The Onion recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the Sixth Circuit, parody retains First Amendment protection only if parodists “explicitly say, up-front, that their work is nothing more than an elaborate fiction,” stripping “parody of the very thing that makes it function,” not unlike explaining the punchline of a joke before it’s delivered. The Onion said:

“Americans can be put in jail for poking fun at the government? This was a surprise to America’s Finest News Source and an uncomfortable learning experience for its editorial team. Indeed, ‘Ohio Police Officers Arrest, Prosecute Man Who Made Fun of Them on Facebook’ might sound like a headline ripped from the front pages of The Onionalbeit one that’s considerably less amusing because its subjects are real. . . .

The Onion’s business model was threatened. This was only the latest occasion on which the absurdity of actual facts managed to eclipse what The Onion’s staff could make up. Much more of this, and the front page of The Onion would be indistinguishable from The New York Times.” The Onion’s Amicus Brief in the Supreme Court.

Only this week, front pages of major news outlets reported events which some readers might have thought were parody at first glance:

· During a rally in Arizona, Trump confesses to facts that support violations of the Espionage Act and Obstruction of Justice, simultaneously stating presidential…

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R.VanWagoner

Exercising my right not to remain silent. Criminal defense and First Amendment attorney.