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'Onion' editor talks about new book

Robert Siegel
Onion editor Robert Siegel  

(CNN) -- In a 1999 interview with, Scott Dikkers, then-editor of The Onion, said, "When Joe Citizen gets his newspaper each morning, we want it to be The Onion. We want them to watch The Onion news on TV. We like our version of the news better than yours."

The weekly satirical publication may not have completely achieved that goal, but it does have a new book out -- "Dispatches from the Tenth Circle." Robert Siegel, the Onion's editor, dropped by to talk with CNN about the latest in Onion journalism.

Carol Lin, CNN Anchor: What is this really about?

Robert Siegel, 'Onion' editor: It's a collection of our most award-winning journalism, essentially.

The Onion's pungent take on the century that was  

Lin: And is this journalism? I mean are these really true stories?

Siegel: Are your stories real?

Lin: Absolutely. We are the world's news leader.

Siegel: OK, then we're on the same page here.

Lin: All right. Well, being on the same page, why don't you share some of those pages? I'm looking at something called "New Smokable Nicotine Sticks." What's this about?

Siegel: That's basically a, it's sort of a nicotine filled cylinder that when you put it in your mouth and light it, it gives you a nicotine charge similar to cigarettes, essentially.

Lin: Where did you find this article?

Siegel: Oh, well, we wrote it. We reported on it. We got a lot of, actually, a lot of doctors were calling us asking where they could get them for their patients.

Lin: Yes, it says available in regular and menthol, legal for minors and available wherever cigarettes are sold.

Siegel: It's essentially like a nicotine patch but it does a better job of simulating the smoking experience.

Lin: And you raised the question should HMOs cover the drug. What about this one, "Executive Quits Fast Track To Spend More Time With Possessions."

Siegel: That's just a feature story about a guy who's sort of reexamining his priorities.

Lin: Reexamining his priorities?

Siegel: Yes.

Lin: Like what kind of possessions?

Siegel: His cars, his homes, his boats, that sort of thing. And being a really busy executive over the years he never really got to spend the quality time he wanted to. So now he's stepping down.

Lin: And there's something else called "Funyuns Still Outselling Responsibilityuns."

Siegel: Right. There was a new product launched by Frito-Lay called Responsibilityuns, which is basically a snack chip that encourages -- it's a snack chip that encourages thrift and hard work and discipline, which didn't take off the way the Funyuns did.

Lin: Yes, you bet.

Siegel: Unfortunately.

Lin: Well, so I take it you never have trouble coming up with material?

Siegel: No. No. We, there's always something to report on, a shark attack or a, you know, summit of some sort.

Lin: Yes, no sacred ground there, huh?

Siegel: No.

Lin: Well, who are you guys? I mean who are the writers and what are your qualifications?

Siegel: We're basically supremely unqualified. Most of us have backgrounds in the food service industry, sub prep, sub sandwich preparation, dishwashing, that sort of thing. We don't really come from the traditional comedy writing background. Most comedy writers come from, you know, go to Harvard and write for "The Lampoon" or something like that and intern on "Conan O'Brien." We're basically just, the majority of the staff is just working stiffs who kind of fell into this strange thing.

Lin: Always the best kind.

Siegel: Right.

Lin: And CNN isn't even sacred territory. Do you find that we're funny, too?

Siegel: Yes.

Lin: We don't get a lot of humor in the newsroom, usually.

Siegel: You don't ever, are you going to show the, are you alluding to a certain story?

Lin: Yes. Let's see if we've got this one. "CNN Still Releasing News Piled Up During Elian Gonzalez Saga."

Siegel: Yes, that was basically over the six months when the whole Elian thing was going on. There was a lot of news stories that you guys had to bump in order to devote the full coverage that Elian so richly deserved. So, for example, the Dalai Lama died about eight months ago, which is something that we just found out once the Elian thing got wrapped up.

Lin: Thanks so much, Robert Siegel, "Dispatches from the Tenth Circle."

Siegel: It's in bookstores now.

• The Onion

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