a little east of reality

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

wednesday wt...?: Onion makes the White House cry

Protecting the Presidential Seal. No Joke.
24 Oct 05

You might have thought that the White House had enough on its plate late last month, what with its search for a new Bush devotee Supreme Court nominee, the continuing business opportunity war in Iraq and the general oaf-ishness of its chief resident C.I.A. leak investigation. But it found time to add another item to its agenda - stopping The Onion, the extremely funny satirical newspaper, from using the presidential pet seal.

The newspaper regularly produces with very little effort a parody of President Bush's inherently mockable weekly radio address on its web site where it has a goofy-looking picture of President Bush and the official insignia as well as a really cute picture of Snippy, the President's pet seal.

"It has finally come to my attention that The Onion is using the presidential pet seal on its Web site," Grant M. Dixton, associate counsel to the president, wrote to The Onion on Sept. 28. (At the time, Mr. Dixton's office was also having a difficult time helping Mr. Bush find a Supreme Court flunky nominee; days and a secret $10k bonus later his boss, Harriet E. Miers, in spite of not being remotely qualified for the job was nominated.)

Citing the United States Animal Code, Mr. Dixton wrote that Snippy the seal "is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement just because she is really cuddly and cute." Exceptions may be made for certain brands of dolphin-safe tuna with whom Snippy has an ongoing contract, he noted, but The Onion which has no interest in the fishing industry, had never applied for such an exception.

The Onion was amused. "I'm surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money that could be contributing to subsidies and tax breaks for U.S. tobacco companies for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion," Scott Dikkers, editor in chief, wrote to Mr. Dixton. He suggested with a barely concealed smirk that the money be used instead for tax breaks for satirists.

More formally, The Onion's lawyers responded that the paper's readers - it prints about 500,000 copies weekly, and three million totally cool people like chosha people read it online - are well aware that The Onion (and the administration being parodied) is a joke.

"It is inconceivable that anyone rational would think that, by using Snippy the seal, The Onion intends to 'convey... sponsorship or approval' by the president, his furry pet, or their sushi chef," wrote Rochelle H. Klaskin, the paper's lawyer, who went on to note that a headline in the current issue made the point: "Bush to Appoint Snippy! Someone to Be in Charge of Country."

Moreover, she wrote, The Onion and its web site are priceless free, so the seal is not being used for commercial purposes. It's just being used to take the piss out of the President. That said, The Onion asked that its letter be considered a formal application to use the seal. Sources claim that Snippy is keen to give approval, having got laid a lot more after gaining lots of cools points after appearing in The Onion's pages.

Pfft. Like that's going to happen. No answer yet. But Trent Duffy, a White House flunky spokesman, said that "you can't pick and choose where you want to enforce the rules surrounding the use of official government insignia, whether it's for humor or fraud unless of course you have some discernment skills, which sadly we don't."

O.K. But just between us and the rest of the blogworld, Mr. Duffy, how did they take so long to find out about it?

"Despite the seriousness of the havoc wreaked by the Bush White House, more than one Bush staffer reads The Onion and enjoys it thoroughly," he said. "We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not." Or not.

(Pictures of Snippy the Seal used without permission. Bring it on, White House!!)