Every Time There's A Mass Shooting, The Onion Writes The Same Story. Today, It Featured All 21.
The Onion's editor-in-chief, Chad Nackers, explained why after the Uvalde shooting it reposted every variation of its story "'No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens."
It jokingly bills itself "America's finest news source," but for years now the Onion has done exceptional, biting coverage of a very American phenomenon.
Each time there is a high-profile mass shooting, the satirical website publishes a variation of the exact same story.
Starting with the 2014 attack in Isla Vista, California, that killed six people, the Onion published a piece titled "'No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens."
In the years since, it has published that same headline 20 more times.
"It's just incredibly draining and it's hard to actually find like new angles on it," Onion Editor-in-Chief Chad Nackers told BuzzFeed News in an interview on Wednesday. "And this kind of encompasses everything and it just works so well and it captures the helplessness of it."
On Wednesday, the Onion published its 21st variation of the story — this time in response to the murder of 19 elementary school children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, the previous day.
For the first time ever, the Onion devoted its entire front page to all 21 past stories and linked all the past pieces in a long Twitter thread.
"Today, it kind of shows how powerful that looks when the entire homepage is filled with showing that nothing has been done for eight years," Nackers said.
"If you look, it takes a while — even on the Twitter feed — to scroll through how many times we posted it today," Nackers said. "It's not two seconds. It takes you probably 30 seconds to scroll through all the articles if you just keep moving. And that's just incredibly sad and it's horrifying."
The Onion's actions on Wednesday went viral among many Americans feeling despondent about yet another mass shooting — just a week after a shooter in Buffalo, New York, killed 10 mostly Black shoppers at a supermarket — and angry at the lack of gun control legislation.
Nackers, who has helmed the Onion since 2017 but has worked at the publication since before the 1999 Columbine massacre, told BuzzFeed News that he and his staff decided to take action after feeling exhausted and angry at the recent shootings.
"One week it's a hate crime on people of color in Buffalo; this week, it's kids in a primarily Hispanic school," he said. "We have this platform, and we felt like this is a very effective way to show how it just keeps on happening."
Each variation of the Onion story changes only a few details.
The first and most prominent is the dateline of the story, listing the location of the latest attack.
It then features a new photo from the scene, which appears similar to the others in that they all tend to show police cars, flashing sirens, or crime scenes taped off.
Finally, the name of a fake person is changed to provide the same quote, which the Onion then proceeds to dismantle to highlight its absurdity. In Wednesday's story about the Uvalde elementary school shooting, it read:
“This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Idaho resident Kathy Miller, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.”
The effect of the repetition, Nackers explained, is the point.
"It's a little bit more of a meta take, where it's like the more you see it, it tends to grow stronger," he said.
The headline was first written back in 2014 by former Onion writer Jason Roeder.
Four years later, Roeder expressed his shock when the words he had written were applied to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, close to his own home.
Of course, mass shootings aren't the only tragedies that the comedy writers at the Onion try to tackle and shed new light on. Back in 2001, when the Onion still had a print edition, Nackers and his colleagues won extensive praise for their first issue following the 9/11 attacks. Those stories included pieces titled "U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever We're At War With," "Rest Of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection For New York," and "Hugging Up 76,000 Percent."
The "hard satire" underpinning the tragic series about mass shootings isn't intended to make readers laugh, Nackers said, but to make them think.
"I think hard satire deals with controversial issues that are hard to talk about — often violence and other things — and there's a there's a point made and it's exposing the truth, but it's not doing it purely for laughs," he said. "This is not like a 'Oh boy, this is such a funny headline!' It's just a little different than a lot of the stuff that we end up doing."
Nackers said he and his staff are emotionally and mentally exhausted each time there is a shooting and they have to put together the same piece.
But he hopes that the cumulative effect will help to disrupt the political and media stasis and spur change.
"It's just heartbreaking to see this happening. I mean, it happened last week, and we're just fucking sick of it," Nackers said. "And this is a good way for us to kind of make a point and have a kind of powerful piece that just keeps showing how this keeps happening."