‘All-Knowing’ News Network Debuts to Mixed Reaction

The fake news business just got a little bigger.

The fake news business has flourished on TV and in print lately thanks to The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and the Onion. But now the Onion is spreading its satire on the Web, launching an online newscast of “serious” fake news.

Onion News Network, the self-proclaimed “harder, faster, scarier, and all-knowing” news network, launched Tuesday on the Onion’s Web site with three videos on timely topics like illegal immigration and the Iraq war — and a diplomatic trip by Condoleeza Rice to “the Orient.”

The Onion will add new video clips every week, and the network’s offerings will also be available via podcast. According to Onion Editor-in-Chief Scott Dikkers, ONN will have more journalistic integrity than other mainstream networks. “We discovered there are occasionally times in our viewers’ lives when they are forced to be away from a television,” Dikkers said in a press release. “The Onion News Network will fill these gaps of news access with a seriousness and integrity missing from news today.”

Rest assured, ONN’s newscasts are nothing like what you would expect to see on CNN. Its story on illegal immigration featured a supposed former executive of a tech company who lost his $840,000-a-year job to a Mexican immigrant who illegally crossed the border on the back of a melon truck. After losing his job, the exec had to live in his summer home all year round and support his family busing tables at T.G.I. Friday’s.

There’s been mixed reaction to satirical news’ latest addition. While some bloggers are applauding ONN’s newscasts, others are claiming that the Onion’s attempts to be “serious” are seriously unfunny.

ACPatriot thinks that the Onion hasn’t lost any of its flare by going from print to Web. “[It’s] pure comedy gold. The Onion translates well to video and they bring their skill at choosing the perfect, most stereotypical looking people for their parts,” wrote the blogger, referring to ONN anchor Brandon Armstrong, who suspiciously looks like a close relative of CNN’s Lou Dobbs. “Looks like The Daily Show will finally have some real competition in the comedy news genre.”

Sean of Cynicism at Its Best also thought the new network hit a comedic high note. “Without a doubt, this is some of the best news I will hear all year: The Onion News Network is online!” exclaimed Sean. “The premiere was brilliant, with ticker news and everything. Nothing amuses me like the flawless amalgamation of impropriety and incisive satire.”

But others are not as pleased, noting that ONN, unlike the two Comedy Central programs, literally fakes the news. “ONN — as of this writing, less a network than a Web page with four clips and a Dewar’s ad — finally takes that extra step. Its news items are, indeed, mocked-up rather than simply mocked,” said New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer. “This means that both the anchors and the subjects are played, hammily, by actors, and the ‘news footage’ is as scripted as the banter around it. Sadly, though, it is not particularly well scripted, nor particularly amusing.”

It remains to be seen whether ONN will one day approach the popularity of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. But for now, one reader of USA Today’s Pop Candy blog thinks the Onion should stick to its usual format. “As to be expected, the writing is better than the execution,” said Bruce Leroy. “Funny to read, not funny to hear from mediocre actors with bad toupees.”

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Satta Sarmah is a CJR intern.