October 03, 2017
As the death toll climbs in Sunday night's historic rampage at a country music festival in Las Vegas, one local satirist believes the nation's foremost humor website shamelessly crossed a line of human decency in its response to the attack.
On the morning after the sniper attack, which has claimed 59 lives and left hundreds injured as of Tuesday afternoon, The Onion published a pair of briefs that sarcastically took jabs at the National Rifle Association and an American culture that can't fathom why such massacres are becoming commonplace tragedies.
“NRA Says Mass Shootings Just The Unfortunate Price Of Protecting People’s Freedom To Commit Mass Shootings,” read the first headline.
"'No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens," the second one piped to The Onion's loyal readers.
But local author Kenny Kahn Kilpatrick, who writes his own humor column, RealClear Satire, and runs a marketing and public relations firm in King of Prussia, said the two articles are disturbing, craven and ought to be retracted with a formal apology.
“While the purpose of satire is to convey an important, hidden message that often points out societal or political flaws that need to be corrected, The Onion went far over the line by using the victims of the Las Vegas rampage as fodder for a few laughs,” Kahn said in a blog at his website.
In an interview Monday night, Kahn expanded on his disappointment with the irreverent publication, whose brand of humor has shaped a generation of sidelong commentary on the full gamut of issues in American society.
"Satire is supposed to be presented in the throne of humor but with an underlying message," Kahn said. "The objective of someone writing about this should be to talk about gun control or talk about mass assault weapons. There is nothing to be gleaned from these articles other than that they think it's funny. It's not a joke, obviously."
Kahn's own political satire has lately picked up steam with the publication of his first book, "Memoirs of a Nation Gone Nuts: A Satirical Review of Election 2016." The book examines how last year's unprecedented online warfare consumed the nation as political scandals and damning investigations surrounded both presidential candidates on all sides.
"I am a student of the Onion," Kahn said. "[Founder] Scott Dickers encouraged me to write my book. I have a lot of respect for them, but they owe a lot of people an apology. There's journalistic and editorial discretion. How did this get past the editors? I can picture them sitting around a table, it was pitched and they laughed about it. I think that's horrific."
What Kahn finds particularly bothersome is that the details of Sunday night's attack are still evolving. He feels the incident remains too fresh to exploit for the sake of a few laughs.
"There are people who are still dying, the count keeps going up," Kahn said. "This is not something to make fun of. Someone has to say, 'hey, let's stop right here. We don't make fun of this.' The Onion has really lost its sensitivity."
Kahn, a Bucks County native, has worked on countless public relations campaigns over the course of his career. His friendship with Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler helped launch Janie's Fund, a philanthropic initiative to help young women who have been traumatized by abuse and neglect.
The Onion is playing with fire, he believes.
"This could be a problem for them," Kahn said. "The Onion is not what it once was and it's a sad day if they're continuing to make light of such a tragedy. It would be a good time for them to retract that and quickly issue an apology. Reputation can fall apart, gradually and then suddenly."
The Onion did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
With the Las Vegas rampage topping Orlando's Pulse nightclub attack as the nation's deadliest mass shooting — two grim records set barely 15 months apart — Kahn sees a country in dire need of self-reflection.
"I think the mainstream media really needs to take a deeper look at why America is so angry," Kahn said. "One thing I take a look at is the ridiculous amount of anger we have right now. What is the root of this? Why are these incidents becoming so much more frequent? Why are our senses so dulled to it? This culture of hate is resulting in real people getting killed."
Ignoring this state of perpetual hostility, or worse, allowing it to become a joke, could be disastrous, Kahn warned.
"This isn't just a divided nation. It is a deadly divided nation," Kahn said. "If we don't take it seriously, and figure out how we can address these shootings, Las Vegas will be miniscule compared to what will happen in the future."