The Onion Roils Capitol With Fictional Congress-Perpetrated Hostage Situation

September 29, 2011 8:49 am

The Onion may have just struck a raw nerve with the latest article to come from the satirical newspaper — narrating a hostage situation at the U.S. Capitol perpetrated by members of Congress. In fact, the Capitol Police are now responding.

The Onion’s article, and the accompanying tweets, appear to satirize the wave of standoffs that have occurred in Congress over potential government shutdowns, the issues of the deficit and the national debt, the debt ceiling, and possible default on U.S. debt, all of which were narrowly averted. Along the way, various politicians and media outlets have often accused one side or another of holding Americans “hostage.” To which The Onion has created a fictional, literal hostage situation — and a bipartisan one, at that!

As of the latest update on Twitter: “BREAKING: Congress demanding $12 trillion ransom or “all the kids die” #CongressHostage

Shortly after the story began being posted, the Capitol Police released this statement to the press, from spokesperson Sgt. Kimberly Schneider:

It has come to our attention that recent twitter feeds are reporting false information concerning current conditions at the U.S. Capitol. Conditions at the U.S. Capitol are currently normal. There is no credibility to these stories or the twitter feeds. The U.S. Capitol Police are currently investigating the reporting.

When contacted by TPM, Sgt. Schneider declined to comment on what the Capitol Police might be doing to investigate the matter, saying that the police do not discuss the preliminary stages of a law enforcement investigation.

The Onion has not immediately responded to TPM’s request for comment.Late morning on Thursday, The Onion tweeted: “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.”

This was then followed by an “update,” and a new hashtag for the story: “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage

The paper then posted an article laying out the “breaking news” of the hostage situation — having it begin when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “suddenly burst into the National Statuary Hall with a pair of black panty hose over his head and began firing a Beretta 9 mm handgun into the air, shouting, ‘Everybody down! Everybody get the fuck down!'”

The article includes a plainly Photoshopped image of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) at a door to the Russell Senate Office Building, holding a gun to a little girl’s head, and flanked by an unidentified man wearing a ski-mask and holding a rifle. The caption reads: “If the money is not delivered by this evening, members of Congress say they will shoot a new child every hour on the hour.”

The article also includes a fictional cell-phone video, seemingly taken by a child hostage, seated on the ground depicting Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Rep. Dan Lipisnki (D-IL) threatening the group of schoolchildren. “Lipinski” says, “Hey, Boehner, this kid’s got a phone,” and the video suddenly stops after a loud noise — presumably meant to represent some violent act, possibly a gunshot, being committed against the child.

This story kicked off various negative reactions across Twitter. In a very notable example, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) real-life spokesman Brad Dayspring tweeted: “The Onion: FAIL. #notfunny”

A minute or two later, The Onion tweeted a message about Cantor: “Arlington gun shop confirms Rep. @EricCantor bought 6 semi-automatic handguns, 3 rifles & 600 clips of ammo last month #CongressHostage

It is unclear whether The Onion’s tweet about Cantor was related to the criticism from his spokesman, or if the close timing might be a coincidence.

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