A former writer and editor with The Onion is sorry.
In a Thursday
essay for Vice, Joe Garden bared his soul for helping to create a popular-but-false image of Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden, confessing that if folks out there ever viewed the former vice president as a “clueless but lovable clod, a well-meaning klutz who is predictable, friendly, and ultimately electable, I am in small part responsible for that image. And I’m sorry.”
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More from Garden’s piece:
I worked at
The Onion for 19 years as a writer and features editor. By the time I left in 2012, the publication had developed its take on Vice President Biden: “creepy but harmless,” with the emphasis on “harmless.” We lampooned him as an uncle you’d shake your head at but not think twice about—the sort of guy who’d wink and say, “Don’t let your meat loaf!” as a farewell. For many people, the image of Biden that most readily springs to mind is the one of Diamond Joe, shirtless and grinning, washing his Trans Am in the White House driveway.
The handsome guy who’s got it good but doesn’t take himself too seriously is a profoundly American aesthetic, and Biden seemed to embody it.
The Onion even produced a Biden book, The President of Vice, in 2013. He may not have been in on the joke, but he certainly knew about it and embraced it, calling it “hilarious” in a 2011 interview and jumping in to a Reddit AMA with the faux Biden to express his preference for Corvettes.
Garden added that he “didn’t take him seriously enough to think we were doing anything wrong. I thought of him as little more than a political necessity: the older, more conservative white guy who softened Barack Obama’s image in regions where the prospect of a black president was too radical. A deeper dive on Biden never felt necessary.”
‘I’ve since changed my mind’
But Garden said, “I’ve since changed my mind” — due to the fact that Biden is leading the crowded pack of Democratic presidential hopefuls, even after several women recently said Biden touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.
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Garden also said he saw big warning signs in that left-wing Democrats aren’t backing Biden and that he’s turning a blind eye to millennials’ concerns.
“As I watch him campaign as an old (-fashioned, -school, -old) centrist, I realize how badly we screwed up,” Garden added. “Instead of viciously skewering a public figure who deserved scrutiny, we let him off easy. The joke was funny, but it didn’t hit hard enough.”
Garden shifted gears to focus on the late-night comedy shows’ “immoral” kid gloves treatment of President Donald Trump during his campaign — and put him in the same category as former Klan leader David Duke and alt-right figure Richard Spencer — but then eventually circled back to Biden.
“To be clear, Biden won’t wind up in the same layer of hell as Trump, and I don’t believe
The Onion’s Biden is solely responsible for this early popularity of real-life Biden,” he wrote. “We were just one small link in a chain of institutions that didn’t scrutinize Biden closely enough. I wish we had looked more at his actual career in politics—which includes opposition to busing as a way to integrate schools and support for predatory financial institutions—and tried to really puncture him, rather than just turning him into a clown. We helped make him more likable by inventing a version of Biden that never existed.”
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‘Didn’t measure up’
Garden concluded by saying The Onion’s Biden stories “didn’t measure up” to the calling of satire, which he said is “to amplify society’s negative traits to a comical extent so you can see the ugliness that’s always been there.”
“We knew through inside sources that at the time people in the White House loved those pieces, and that should have been a red flag,” he wrote. “As a guideline, if the people you’re satirizing aren’t mad, then you should dig deeper. I hope that my alma mater, and everyone else in comedy, follows this rule now that Diamond Joe is back.”
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