White House goes after The Onion

White House lawyers really have their hands full: Top Bush administration aides are under investigation, the president wants to secure a Supreme Court seat for his top legal aide—and a satirical website is using the presidential seal.

Preventing The Onion (www.theonion.com) from using the symbol of United States presidential power became an official matter after a White House lawyer asked the popular, fun-poking online magazine to remove the seal from its website.

Grant Dixton informed the magazine last month that the seal cannot be used commercially “in any way that suggests the presidential support or endorsement”. The Onion would have to ask for a waiver, he said.

The Onion responded with incredulity that the White House would waste its time on the matter - though it did ask for an exemption.

For a news-parody website with recent headlines like “Energy Secretary Just Assumed Cabinet Knew He Did Porn Films In The ‘80s” and “Bush Subconsciously Sizes Up Spain For Invasion”, the tiff with the White House was real-world news almost too good to be true.

In an initial response, Onion lawyers said no reader could seriously think that use of the seal is “meant to convey sponsorship”, especially since access is free to both the website and a printed version. The seal is shown on a page with parodies of the weekly presidential radio address.

“To the best of our knowledge, no advertiser has ever bought space in The Onion because they believe it carries the presidential seal of approval,” the lawyers said.

That was restrained compared to the scorn that chief editor Scott Dikkers heaped on the White House last week.

“We’re surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion,” he said.

He suggested alternative uses for the money.
For example, a federal emergency management agency—which actually exists but was widely faulted for botching the government response to this summer’s Hurricane Katrina.

In more black humour, Dikkers advocated a “tax break for satirists” or going-away presents for White House staffers he said will surely be fired after the current inquiry into the leak of a covert CIA agent’s identity.

“In the event there’s any extra money left over after all these projects,” Dikkers wrote, “then perhaps the president could justify paying lawyers to protect him from comedians.”

The Onion also made headlines in 2002 with an article that said the US Congress might move from Washington unless the city builds a more modern Capitol building. The article was poking fun at US sports teams that often threaten to relocate unless cities build them taxpayer-funded stadiums.

US readers caught the joke, but the Beijing Evening News carried the report as real news, causing laughter in the United States.

Dikkers also extended a gesture of good will to the White House: “Just to show you that there are no hard feelings, we are going to send you a complimentary subscription to The Onion,” he said. - Sapa-DPA

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