The Onion sparks ire with image of plane, building

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Associated Press

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Updated Saturday, Aug 4 at 6:30 AM

CHICAGO (AP) — The satirical newspaper The Onion is attracting some public ire for an image that shows an airliner about to crash into Chicago's Willis Tower, the tallest building in the country.

The image, in a video on The Onion's website showcasing its stories, shows an airplane emblazoned with the company name Sears flying toward the iconic black skyscraper, which for decades was named Sears Tower and headquarters to the retail chain. A narrator intones, "Sears extremists fly a plane into Willis Tower."

The image generated more than 3,200 responses on The Onion's Facebook page by Friday evening, many denouncing the use of an image reminiscent of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

In response to questions about the criticism and using such an image, The Onion marketing director Grant Jones stuck with the newspaper's tone. He wrote in an email that, "9-11 must never be the fodder for jokes. Perhaps you didn't see the news that humor died after 9-11."

Jones called the blurb "a very important story," then added: "We're surprised other major news sources are not giving it the coverage it deserves."

People in New York weren't taking the image as lightly.

"That's not funny," said Christina Lopez, 36, who was living on New York's Long Island on Sept. 11, 2001. She said she can't foresee a time when such a gag would be appropriate, adding: "It's not OK. Ever."

Bill Hylen, a Philadelphian who was visiting lower Manhattan on Friday, also didn't find the image amusing. The 45-year-old said there may be a time when a lighthearted allusion to 9/11 won't hit such a nerve in the nation, but "it's not coming up any time soon."

It isn't the first time The Onion has generated angst with its satire.

Last September, Washington Capitol Police released a statement refuting tweets and an article claiming members of Congress had taken a group of school children hostage. It included a doctored picture of Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner holding a gun to a child's head.

The story came a day after the FBI arrested a man accused of planning to bomb the Pentagon and the Capitol with explosive-filled model airplanes.

The Chicago-based publication was founded in 1988 by two students in Madison from the University of Wisconsin. Starting as a local college newspaper, it became a national comedy institution and went online in 1996, and has since developed a television news parody. The publication is distributed weekly in cities, but it has also embraced Twitter and on has an app for the iPad and other tablets.

The Onion's editorial staff has been based in New York City with other offices in Madison, Wis., but is relocating to Chicago.

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