Day 6·Q&A

The Onion's 'no way to prevent this' satire published for 21st time in response to Texas mass shooting

Readers who visited the home page of satirical news website The Onion this week were inundated with the same headline nearly two dozen times over: "'No way to prevent this,' says only nation where this regularly happens."

'Ultimately the point of this is that we have grown inured, deaf to suffering of others,' says editor

People mourn in front of memorial crosses for the victims of the mass shooting that resulted in the death of 19 children and two teachers in front of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. (Veronica G. Cardenas/Reuters)

Readers who visited the home page of satirical news website The Onion this week were inundated with the same headline nearly two dozen times over.

"'No way to prevent this,' says only nation where this regularly happens," read the titles. Each article includes a different dateline pointing to a U.S. city where a mass shooting took place. 

The satire — which highlights political inaction against gun violence in the United States — was first published in 2014 in the aftermath of a shooting in Isla Vista, Calif., that killed six people and injured 14 others. Since then, The Onion has published similar stories with the same headline a total of 21 times — and twice this May. 

The Onion's latest version follows a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead. 

Each story follows a similar structure. They begin with the location and details of each event, followed by a fictional quote from a supposed resident of the area saying the shootings are "tragic" but unavoidable.

"The ultimate point being, of course, that there are things that we can and ought to be doing, but somehow we in this country seem to be wracked by helplessness," said Jordan D. LaFlure, senior managing editor at The Onion, in an interview with Day 6 host Saroja Coelho. 

Since 2014, The Onion has republished the headline "'No way to prevent this,' says only nation where this regularly happens," 21 times in response to mass shootings in the United States. On May 25, following a shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school that killed 21 people, The Onion posted all 21 versions on their homepage. (The Onion/Screenshot)

LaFlure spoke with Coelho about why the publication continues to republish the headline and the thinking behind their jarring homepage. Here is part of that conversation.

So if you opened The Onion's home page [this week], it had every headline as: "'No way to prevent this,' says only nation where this regularly happens." But can you describe the stories that appeared under that repeating headline?

These are multiple instances of a story that we've run starting in 2014. When we ran the first one, I don't think we had any sense of the fact that we were going to ultimately repeat it. So really, in one manner of speaking, it's the second one that's more momentous here internally, because that was when we made the decision to, in fact, repeat it so many times.

And yes, with each repetition, it just continues to increase its own relevance. It's an unfortunately relevant piece of satire.

The person who wrote the original article, Jason Roeder, only lived about a mile away from the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. That was in 2018. Have you talked with him about this repeating article? How does he feel about it?

I have not spoken with him directly, but I know that my editor-in-chief Chad Nackers has...' I mean, it's a strange mix for all of us, him in particular.

There is some sense of pride in having so well encapsulated such a difficult topic. But there's also — I wouldn't call it shame, but maybe guilt is closer, to have to run it. The relevance of it is heartbreaking and so it's kind of both, all mixed together.

What you're doing here isn't to make a joke about school shootings. The Onion is really performing a satire role here. This isn't comedy, but could you tell us what the difference is there?

Absolutely. I mean, that's a big question. The Onion asks a lot of its audience, because we are constantly blending satire and comedy, rotating between the two. Even within the same joke, those two approaches can be blended.

To your point, I think this is a purely satirical take and it is meant to highlight the absurdity of life.

The satire is meant to give people pause and reflect on the state of our world. It's adjacent to comedy because it can often evoke kind of — you know, it's gallows humour.

It can evoke laughter, but it is a much different type of laughter, of course. It is when something goes so horribly wrong that all you can do is laugh.

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There's also that political commentary there without actually saying it.

Right. It leaves a lot unsaid. It requires that people be aware of what's going on, and fortunately for the the salience of this joke, people are, of course, very familiar with what's going on out in the world right now when it comes to these violent shootings.

I'm trying to imagine how you gather together as colleagues and discuss what The Onion site is going to look like this week. Here you have another school shooting. Everyone is feeling terrible. So what was the discussion that happened behind the scenes? 

We did something similar on Twitter. So we first tweeted the newest, the latest version of this story and then threaded all of the previous instances, and we did those about a minute apart. And we found that to be very impactful, and so we wanted to mimic that impact on our own homepage.

I don't think when I first assembled it that I truly appreciated the impact it would have. We've gotten a lot of response to having done it, but really it was just meant to mimic the experience that our readers were getting on Twitter. But yes, the final outcome is visually arresting and, I mean, jarring, horrific. A whole lot of words come to mind. 

Did anyone have any reluctance about running that headline again?

No. I mean, we do have a full writer's room. We frequently have differences of opinion about how to approach any topic, serious or otherwise. But I think we're pretty much in lockstep on the value of this particular article.

What would you say that ultimate point is?

Ultimately the point of this is that we have grown inured, deaf to suffering of others. That we have somehow lost the ability to empathize in a way that elicits action. I think the point is that we live in a country and a world, now, that it takes far too much to drive us to meaningful action and that we are lost for it. And, yeah, it's a pretty sad state of affairs.

And at the same time, you keep doing this work. So I get the sense that you're still hopeful for some kind of change.

I mean, honestly, I've been angry this week. This has been an angry week for me. When we first started doing this story eight years ago now, I was not yet a father dropping off my toddler. The morning after that shooting was difficult. I don't even necessarily think she's in danger, but the fact that I have to even consider it as I leave her for the day, it's maddening. It's infuriating.

And the fact that we have elected officials that seem not to care — and I don't confine that to one party or the other. The fact is that we should be holding all of these people accountable and that we need change now.

Flowers are placed on a makeshift memorial in front of Robb Elementary School where the shooting took place. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

The question in a lot of newsrooms has been how to cover yet another mass shooting in the United States, especially when it's happening this regularly. But as a satirical news site, you seem to have found a way to make a point about this story without having to say something new. Do you have hope that you'll retire the headline one day?

That's an excellent question. Given the events of this week and the eight years and beyond prior? Frankly, no.

I hope that ... if the impact of the headline diminishes, and we believe it to no longer be as impactful as it once was, then I hope we find a new way to make more impact. So if it gets retired, it will be because it's not being received as it once was.

But in terms of the topic itself, I don't think we'll retire it any time soon, in the foreseeable future for gun violence having been completely eradicated from American culture.

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Laurie Allan. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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