White House v. The Onion
October 24, 2005 4:33 PM   Subscribe

 
ha ha ha
posted by Substrata at 4:34 PM on October 24, 2005


How far can Uhmmur'kuh sink?
posted by fire&wings at 4:37 PM on October 24, 2005


How far can MeFi sink? An Onion FPP? Oh wait.
posted by 327.ca at 4:41 PM on October 24, 2005


from the law link...

"in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States"

Who thinks anything on the Onion has gov sponsorship or approval? It's like the whitehouse lawyer can't even read the law he wanted to enforce.
posted by nomisxid at 4:47 PM on October 24, 2005


Does this apply to all news and media outlets that opperate "For Profit"?

Quick someone tell Fox News they can't use the seal anymore either...
posted by aaronscool at 4:48 PM on October 24, 2005


Why is The White House so worried about protecting the seventh seal?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:51 PM on October 24, 2005


Any lawyers? Does parody not apply to the presidential seal? I may have my laws mixed up.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:54 PM on October 24, 2005


I thought Bush didn't read nespapers or surf the Internets.
posted by ericb at 4:55 PM on October 24, 2005


And here I thought they were working together - the Onion writing the script and the White House acting it out.
posted by scottreynen at 4:56 PM on October 24, 2005


scottreynen: Yeah, that article seems more and more prophetic all the time.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:59 PM on October 24, 2005


I think they're treading a little close to the line. Is this page so obvious a parody?
posted by smackfu at 5:07 PM on October 24, 2005


But The Onion is making better use of the Presidential Seal. They're not the ones holding it up to public shame and ridicule.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:29 PM on October 24, 2005


I actually think that weeklyradioaddress.com seriously oversteps the mark. It's not as if a small-print disclaimer on the page would ruin the joke! I hate to back White House lawyers, but I think they're probably in the right here.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:34 PM on October 24, 2005


Yeah, I think The Onion may be on the wrong side of this argument. Think for a second- if you sent this link to someone who didn't know what The Onion was, it's not at all obvious it's parody until well into the address.
posted by mkultra at 5:35 PM on October 24, 2005


God also apparently asked that The Onion stop telling people what he thinks about the administration.
posted by shmegegge at 5:36 PM on October 24, 2005


weeklyradioaddress.com doesn't even have a real WHOIS. It's as if The Onion is trying to get sued.

Well, I guess it would be good publicity...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:37 PM on October 24, 2005


Catch the story on tonight's Daily Show, for some serious MetaSurrealism.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:41 PM on October 24, 2005


WeeklyRadioAddress.com is run by the folks over at www.whitehouse.gov. Are they the same people that run the Onion? Cause I've never heard that.
posted by muddgirl at 5:44 PM on October 24, 2005


The person doing the Bush impression is both really good and really awful.
posted by davejay at 5:45 PM on October 24, 2005


muddgirl is a n00b.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:48 PM on October 24, 2005


Why is The White House so worried about protecting the seventh seal?

Duh - it's because they've clubbed so many. If they get down to only 6 left, that's low enough to get on the new & improved Endangered Species Act.

That and, yah, I reckon they've been reading up on the End Times. Who hasn't?
posted by freebird at 5:51 PM on October 24, 2005


What davejay said.
posted by interrobang at 5:51 PM on October 24, 2005


Actually, as I'm listening to them, he's sorta starting to grow on me.
posted by interrobang at 5:52 PM on October 24, 2005


Only an administration as schizophrenically divorced from reality as this one could possibly even make the inference that the Onion's use of the Presidential Seal implies some sort of endorsement.

I have to say, though, the White House is, in fact, getting quite good at ambling back and forth between hubris and pathos.
posted by clevershark at 6:06 PM on October 24, 2005


I think they're treading a little close to the line. Is this page so obvious a parody?

Er... did you... listen to any of them?

Halloween:
"Good morning. This week, as America celebrates the fun aspects of fear and terror, let us not forget the real scare of real life terror, like September 11th.

Some say Halloween is just as scary, because it advocates the worshipping of Satan, and the practice of the Black Arts, and that is wrong. I'm proposing this week, Executive Order to Make Halloween A National Holiday, But Change It, So As To Be Not A Day For Glorifying The Dark Lord Of Hatred And Terror, But A Day For Worshipping Jesus Our Lord.

Instead of Trick or Treating, kids will roam the streets and sing hymns to their neighbors. Each house will bestow communion upon the youngsters, with grape juice, and whole-wheat wafers. We will put the Holy back in Holy-Ween. Jesusween, we'll call it.

The only ghost you'll see on that night is the Holy Ghost, and he will not spook you, he will bestow the blessings of the Lord upon you, which are far sweeter than candy corn or chocolate. I call on the faithful to take back halloween from the evildoers, and make it holy once again. And kids, do not forget to pick your favorite bible character to dress as. I know that I'm roaming the streets of Washington D.C. with my sack of tricks, as Adam. God bless you."

Yep, certainly easy to confuse with the real Bush radio address. In a functioning democracy, this is unquestionably satire.

p.s.; i hate you for making me transcribe that.
posted by odinsdream at 6:11 PM on October 24, 2005


smackfu, mkultra, do you seriously think someone could click on a single media stream at either of those websites and not immediately figure out that it is not the president? Come on. Even implying that these 'radio addresses' have remotely believable content is, in essence, calling the potential listeners complete and utter morons.

Don't be so insulting.
posted by oddman at 6:19 PM on October 24, 2005


odinsdream, that's an example of one soundfile being overtly OTT. Several of them are just Bush Being Stupid, which he does a lot in real life, and I think a small disclaimer should be expected to help protect the innocent muddgirls of our world.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:19 PM on October 24, 2005


It seems clear to me, given the breathtaking gullability of mankind, that the massive majority of the world would click on http://weeklyradioaddress.com without suspicion, and a smaller but still significant majority would sit through the whole of http://weeklyradioaddress.com/WRA20050910.htm without suspicion.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:25 PM on October 24, 2005


You've got to be kidding. Which one could you possibly confuse for the "real" Bush? The one where he's kidnapped by terrorists? How about the one where the Holy Spirit molests him? Or the one about the machine that sees into his mind?
posted by odinsdream at 6:26 PM on October 24, 2005


When "This Is Spinal Tap" was first released, entire theatres walked out in disgust at the band's annoying stupidity.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:28 PM on October 24, 2005


Those incapable of distinguishing satire from reality are hereby, and forever banished from teh internets.
posted by HyperBlue at 6:32 PM on October 24, 2005


fu(k1n6 n0085
posted by HyperBlue at 6:33 PM on October 24, 2005


Evidence of gullability is all around us.

Him: "I'm watching The Shining for the first time. I love these shots of the kid zooming around the hotel corridors"
Me: "Yes, that's actually an unlockable course in Mario Kart 64"
[hours pass]
Him: "You're going to have to tell me how to unlock this. I can't find the code anywhere."
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:37 PM on October 24, 2005


Well, I have to admit, I was confused until I actually heard the addresses. That weeklyradioaddress.com site looks exactly like the white house site, including his stupid dog being featured, as opposed to the other site that had Onion wrapping on it. This is too far, and it has nothing to do with Bush, I'd be angry if someone were doing the same thing in Canada. Come to think of it, there was a post about a site that had a layout too similar to the Canadian government web layout, and were ordered to cease and desist. So there. It's not just a matter of endorsement, it's profiting at the expense of another entity, especially an entity that depends on public trust. Satire would be a picture of Bush with horns coming out of his head, or a stupid message on the seal.
posted by loquax at 6:37 PM on October 24, 2005


You can't tell that weeklyradioaddress is a parody without actually listening to the addresses. That crosses the line for me with regard to "reasonably calculated to convey a false impression of sponsorship or approval". Remember we're only talking about the Presidential seal here.
posted by smackfu at 6:40 PM on October 24, 2005


PG, you almost got me. I was about to post a comment saying something like: "What? Are you out of your mind? No one could possibly take that post seriously! You are either insane, stupid or the most brainwashed presidential apologist ever!" Then, I got it.

Great job! That is the best parody of a misguided attempt to defend the White House I have seen on MeFi. Perhaps the Onion could hire you to write some of their weekly radio addresses. Bravo! Brilliant!
posted by oddman at 6:41 PM on October 24, 2005


/me bows
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:45 PM on October 24, 2005


muddgirl is a n00b

I think a small disclaimer should be expected to help protect the innocent muddgirls of our world.


I would defend myself agains Pretty_Generic, but I'm too busy crying as I jerk off to the Presidential Seal in the shower.

I meant whitehouse.org, thanks for pointing out my mistake in a polite and respectful manner.

By the way, for a second I though whitehouse.gov was a parody site because of this story.
posted by muddgirl at 6:49 PM on October 24, 2005


Um, has the seal always read 'Seal of the Resident of the United States', or is that their way of complying with the order?

If the latter, brilliant.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:52 PM on October 24, 2005


Hmm, it doesn't have that version of the seal everywhere. www.weeklyradioaddress.com has it, the Onion site doesn't.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:58 PM on October 24, 2005


THE EXPERIMENT BEGINS

Wrecking or tampering with the experiment is not cool. Not. Cool. Let's see how it goes down.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:05 PM on October 24, 2005


Of course I urge anyone to start similar experiments.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:11 PM on October 24, 2005


P_G, you're playin with fire. Someone set up a freeper account. Ooh, Paris, could you post it for us?
posted by jmgorman at 7:20 PM on October 24, 2005


freeper isn't dumb enough. Not by a long shot.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:21 PM on October 24, 2005


Pretty_Generic, you may be the most evil human being ever born.

On the other hand, sometimes evil is required in order to engage in science at the bleeding edge.
posted by jkilg at 7:22 PM on October 24, 2005


No surprise here. The Bush White House has done this before.
posted by MaxVonCretin at 7:39 PM on October 24, 2005


I think they're treading a little close to the line. Is this page so obvious a parody?

Er... did you... listen to any of them?

Obvious to most native english speakers, perhaps, but what about those outside the U.S. who stumble upon the site? As ridiculous as it may seem, it's plausible that a Muslim extremist, for example, uses even the ridiculous speech graciously transcribed by odinsdream to support his or her cause.

The Bert/Osama incident is evidence that sometimes material intended to be humorous is taken seriously abroad, and so I think the administration has a legitimate point in the interest of national security. That said, I can't decide whether or not I agree with them, though.
posted by SilentSalamander at 8:44 PM on October 24, 2005


All this means is that The Onion will create their own parody seal, and they'll have a good laugh at the White House's expense.

Hey... I support it!
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:55 PM on October 24, 2005


My suggestion for a replacement...


posted by insomnia_lj at 8:57 PM on October 24, 2005


This cabal seems unclear on the first amendment concept of parody.
Cheney, Fallwell, and O'Reilly come first to mind.


"A parody must convey two simultaneous--and contradictory messages; that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody. To the extent that it does only the former but not the latter, it is not only a poor parody but also vulnerable under trademark law, since the consumer will be confused."


I don't know that I buy the argument that people could be confused that Bush's speeches on the Onion are for real.
I can't see how anyone would think Bush would say stuff like that so I think it meets the above criteria (it is and is not the original).

I suspect that it's because they're old and don't understand teh internets, but mostly I suspect it's because they're stupid.

One of the two paradigms here keeps getting it's ass kicked. You'd think the people who adhere to it would catch on.


Relevent cases here
posted by Smedleyman at 10:00 PM on October 24, 2005


Arguments on the basis of copyright or trademark law, specifically the parody defense, are moot. The Great Seal is protected by specific US Code: 18 USC 713. For legal precedents, obviously intellectual property law provides certain parallels, but the issue here is more a matter of free speech. I found an Alaska state case where these parallels were rejected, and a remarkably similar ACLU objection over materials at the parody site whitehouse.org. (The Onion's lawyers should have noted that one.)
posted by dhartung at 10:19 PM on October 24, 2005


To add to the excellent point dhartung made, trademark law only covers "designations of source" used "in commerce", which the Great Seal isn't.
posted by falconred at 11:34 PM on October 24, 2005


Arguments on the basis of copyright or trademark law, specifically the parody defense, are moot.

So it's more akin to flag burning then? Or the right of publicity?


I don't see how the parody argument doesn't apply, at least conceptually.
It's just a joke after all. A "false impression of sponsorship" is, by definition of parody, necessary. No one thought Nast's cartoons we're actually sponsored by the involved political parties. This schtick goes back to J.P. Zenger

I'd argue 18 USC 713 is unconstitutional if it prohibits representative political speech (well, I would if I wuz a lawyer).

But I will say your Cheney post (ACLU objection) is better than mine.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:59 PM on October 24, 2005


I don't see how the parody argument doesn't apply, at least conceptually.

Because the Constitution empowers Congress to determine how copyright law works, and the ability to copy parts of a work for purpose of parody is granted by statute. As such, it can be modified and overruled by another federal statute, which is exactly what 18 USC 713 does.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 12:52 AM on October 25, 2005


I am not a constitutinal lawyer, but this is my understanding of the relevant law: (take it for ignorant blather.)

To claim that the onion site infringes on the whitehouse by use of the seal (or even the design of the site, which isn't, repeat isn't the contested content, here.) without taking into account the content of the onion's parody addresses is essentially the same thing as saying that any book of parody that doesn't immediately appear to be parody without opening the book is infringement of some kind. The content of the addresses, just like the text INSIDE the book, must be taken into account. You don't get to selectively decide which content is ok and not and then judge the entire site that way.

That said, we're talking about one seal, here. The reason we're talking about it is to say that by using that seal, unmodified, the onion is pretending that the president endorses parodies of himself by the onion. WHETHER THE PARODIES ARE BELIEVABLE is actually not the point. The point specifically is whether the seal implies governmental endorsement of the parodies. It does not, under even the most humorless interpretation of the site, imply any such thing. Parody necessarily takes on certain characteristics of the parodied subject, as Smedleyman's comment above makes clear. In this case, that characteristic is a vocal likeness of the president and that seal. Legally, to my (inadequate) knowledge, that's totally fine.

In other news: P_G seems to be trying to coin a new mefi in-joke regarding muddgirl. I think it's hysterical, but i also applaud muddgirl on her taking it extremely well.
posted by shmegegge at 1:19 AM on October 25, 2005


Man, looks like we're going to have to print more of those P_G fangrrl badges.
I ate the last of mine yesterday.
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:52 AM on October 25, 2005


As ridiculous as it may seem, it's plausible that a Muslim extremist, for example, uses even the ridiculous speech...

Yep, that's ridiculous alright.
posted by twistedonion at 3:26 AM on October 25, 2005


If your President weren't such an ridiculously challenged war-monger, you'd know a lot sooner that those fake speeches were fake.

As it were you end up having to listen to them for a lot longer than you should have to before you figure out they're not real...
posted by clevershark at 6:05 AM on October 25, 2005


I think they're treading a little close to the line. Is this page so obvious a parody?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:26 AM on October 25, 2005


To be honest, I read this link that muddgirl shared and laughed outloud at some of the content. Too bad it's the real site.
posted by Jon-o at 6:42 AM on October 25, 2005


Rule of law! Rule of law! Rule of law!



*falls to floor laughing*
posted by warbaby at 7:06 AM on October 25, 2005


Well, no-one noticed it was fake. Whether anyone actually clicked the link is another matter.

Perhaps I went too stupid.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:50 PM on October 25, 2005


Of course it looks like the Apostolic Congress is still allowed to use theirs in a non-parody way. Discussed here. I guess they approve of that one.
posted by milovoo at 3:33 PM on October 26, 2005


Pollomacho writes "I think they're treading a little close to the line."

So, parody is allowed unless it's subtle? What's the point? The best parody cuts very close to the bone. The reactions to Swift's "A Modest Proposal" were almost as funny as the misunderstood work. If he dumbed it down, it would have been too obvious, and people wouldn't remember today. Of course, I'm not speaking to law here, but I don't think we need to dumb everything down in order to make sure everyone gets the joke.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:35 PM on October 26, 2005


The Onion's response?
posted by kirkaracha at 7:41 AM on October 28, 2005


i was just about to post that, kirk! hysterical!

"I Just Wish I Could Stop Shitting Blood"
posted by amberglow at 12:48 PM on October 28, 2005


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