The Onion's Digital Director Baratunde Thurston: News Is Absurd

Most Creative People in Business 2011 From Jon Stewart's The Daily Show to The Onion to Stephen Colbert's The Colbert Report, fake news has become as much a part of the national dialogue as the real news it parodies. During the 2008 presidential campaign, for example, then-candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both appeared on Stewart's program, making Comedy Central almost as much of a campaign stop as "Meet The Press." And while Bill O'Reilly might admonish viewers of such programs as "stoned slackers," at least one study has indicated that fans of fake news are also some of the best-informed.

Why are Americans more and more turning to fake news?

"I think people turn to us in part because legitimate news has become so absurd that it's often hard to tell the difference," said Baratunde Thurston during a hilarious and enlightening talk at Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business event last week. Thurston, The Onion's digital director and No. 49 on our list, said he believes viewers are growing skeptical and tired of the melodramatic coverage now common on cable news. "[There's] something happening with the lack of trust in legitimate news," he said.

But he's not concerned that the parody is replacing the medium being parodied. "I don't think people get their news from us—I think they get our take on the news from us," Thurston said, "which only makes sense if you know a little bit about what's happening in the world."

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[Illustration: Esra Roise]

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  • Ralph Haygood

    "Stoned slackers," eh? Let's see now. I love the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and, absolutely, the Onion - keep up the fantastic work, Thurston and company. I'm also an entrepreneur currently working 60+ hours a week launching a business. And, oh yeah, I have a Ph.D. from the University of California and a long list of papers in scientific journals. And I've never been stoned in my life (a deficiency I mean to rectify at some point). So I guess "stoned slackers" is about as accurate as any of the other shit Bill-O the Clown spews.

    Thurston is exactly right: you need to have a clue what's going on in the world in order to appreciate Stewart, Colbert, or the Onion. That's why when clueless people read the Onion, unintended hilarity ensues.

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    I saw Baratunde's talk, it was awesome, both profound, and profoundly funny. And his point about the traditional news media is spot on.

    Baratunde is also incredibly kind, I told him my daughter loves the Onion, and he suggested several more magazines and tv shows for her, and she loves it! Thanks!

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Time Coach to Authentic Leaders