While online media affords writers the opportunity to get their work out to the masses in a rapid, timely fashion, one of the unique privileges that the platform affords is the opportunity to very readily give an old article a second bite of the web-traffic apple when events unfold in a fashion that give it new currency. And at this very moment, the health care reform debate has given the news satirists at The Onion a chance to do just that.
Back in May of 2001, The Onion published a faux-editorial, purporting to be from Montana Senator Max Baucus, in which "he" opined:
I've been "serving" the great state of Montana in the U.S. Senate since 1978. You'll notice I put "serving" in quotes, because, let's face it, I suck. My wife has been pleading with me not to say this publicly, insisting that it's not true, that I'm a capable and dedicated public servant, blah, blah, blah. Bless her dear heart, but she's just being nice. Because, folks, I am telling you, I am hands-down the shittiest senator in the history of the Senate. The worst.
"Baucus" would go on to say, "I should just quit. Actually, I should have quit a long time ago. But I never did, because the people kept insisting I run for another term. I've been re-elected three times, and every time I am, I get the notion that maybe, if I made a real conscious effort, I could stop being such a lousy legislator."
That editorial was titled, "I'm Such A Shitty Senator," and it played off the humor that not too many people had really heard of or cared about who Max Baucus was. But eight years later, the health care reform debate would take off in Washington, DC, and Max Baucus would become a major player. And there, the full flower of Max Baucus' actual, ineffable shittiness would bloom, and The Onion shrewdly took advantage.
I spoke to Onion web editor Baratunde Thurston about how they maximized their opportunity at reminding people that they had been on the "Max Baucus is a shitty Senator" tip long before pointing out Max Baucus' shittiness became the new black:
Before the healthcare drama, this article got about 15 pageviews per day. No one cared. We noticed it popping up on a few blogs and decided to feature it in our In Focus section on the homepage and via Twitter in mid-September. That led to a high spike (up to 22K pageviews in one day).
Naturally, if Max Baucus had comported himself in any other manner than one befitting a real-life sack of actual human waste, The Onion would have not been able to bring readers back to their 2001 piece, and it would have remained a little-viewed piece of satiric arcana. Of course, as Thurston points out, 2001 was a pretty good year for The Onion's overall prescience.
What if The Onion, instead of titling their article "I'm Such A Shitty Senator," had opted to go with "I'm Such A Gape-Mouthed Whore For Health Care Industry Lobbyists?" My feeling is that it would have been more true, less funny, and just as sad.
I'm Such A Shitty Senator [The Onion]
Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over' [The Onion]