The Onion's Satirical News Show From 12 Years Ago Is Basically Indistinguishable From Today's News Channels

What was once a lampoon of right-wing news now feels... eerily familiar.

news stations glitching Fokusiert, Alessandro Businaro, gorodenkoff, ursatii, jonaspas, AnnieSpratt | Canva, Fox News | The Onion

There's no doubt about it — politics and the media have shifted drastically in recent years. Voters on both sides of the political aisle have shifted more leftward and more rightward, and much of our media has done the same. But it can be hard to notice just how much until you take a trip back in time before things were quite so polarized.

An old TV show produced by "The Onion," clips from which have recently recirculated on social media, give a glimpse into how much things have changed. And... well, it ain't pretty. 


Clips from The Onion's 2011 satirical news show are now eerily similar to today's conservative news programming.

The show, called "Onion News Network," debuted in 2011 on the Independent Film Channel, now known as IFC, and was meant to lampoon the propagandistic bombast of Fox News. To do so, it hired a real-life former Fox News anchor, Suzanne Sena, to play "Onion News Network's" host Brooke Alvarez.

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Alvarez's skillful delivery of the show's deceptively subtle writing made for segments that would often be indistinguishable from Fox News itself unless you were watching and listening closely. It was the sort of satire where if you didn't know what you were watching, you might not catch on that it was satire at all until it got really, really absurd. 

Other parts of the show, especially its morning news show spoof "Today Now," leaned much harder into the satire, with truly ridiculous segments that had you laughing immediately because of how over the top they were. Or at least they did in 2011.

But in 2023, the right-wing mediascape — and the TV news world in general — has changed dramatically. The right-wing mainstream has shifted drastically rightward, so that viewpoints and language once considered taboo, or even outright abhorrent, now seem to be becoming standard political boilerplate, or at least commonplace.

Take, for example, a Labor Day rally outside Disney World in Florida, where supporters of Republican Florida Governor and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis proudly waved flags emblazoned with swastikas and other Nazi imagery along with posters bearing DeSantis' face. 




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It used to be that a politician would immediately denounce something like this, but so far, as of this writing DeSantis has made no mention whatsoever of the incident.

Times have definitely changed. And that makes things like The Onion's old attempt to satirize right-wing media hit entirely different in 2023. 


Many of the sketches from The Onion's 2011 satirical news show now play like plausible segments from far-right networks.

One thing that has drastically changed since 2011 is the sheer number of conservative media outlets. Back then, there was pretty much just Fox News, along with a few fringe outliers that the average American had probably never even heard of. 

Now, there are myriad online networks and TV broadcasters like One America News and Newsmax, far-right propaganda channels whose relationship to facts is so loose they have both been defendants in billion-dollar lawsuits filed against them for broadcasting fallacious claims about election fraud in 2020. (Those lawsuits haven't stopped both networks from being included in the White House press pool, however.)

It's worth noting that part of what exploded these networks in popularity is the sentiment among many conservatives that Fox News is "too liberal" — a sentiment that in and of itself would have seemed like parody in 2011.

But now, these new channels' heightened rhetoric makes "Onion News Network" seem more like a documentary than a lampoon. Take for instance the below clip from the aforementioned "Today Now" morning show parody about a young boy who killed a burglar during a home invasion.


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Given the right's obsession with guns and the often explicitly violent rhetoric with which it discusses crime, policing, the right to bear arms and what it means to be "patriotic," do two news hosts adulating a literal child for brutally murdering and dismembering a burglar seem... all that over the top for a right-wing news station anymore?

It's not until you get all the way to the end of the sketch, when the little boy is openly — and hilariously — thirsting for blood like a sociopathic serial killer that the sketch starts to feel like the joke it actually is.


"Onion News Network's" 2011 parody of right-wing homophobia also feels eerily current given the right's virulent anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

The only thing right-wing news seems to be more obsessed with than guns is LGBTQ+ people, especially trans people, and it takes only a short cursory viewing of any of these networks to see that painting us as nefarious pedophiles forms the bulk of their programming. During a recent 30-minute visit with my father, for example, not once did the Fox News commentary blaring out of the nearby TV shift away from the supposedly diabolical deeds of LGBTQ+ people.

The Republican Party has always had a homophobic streak, but much like the pro-DeSantis DisneyWorld protest, it used to be that outward, explicit homophobia was frowned upon even among the mainstream American right. That relative decorum is what the central joke of another "Today Now" clip from 2011, about "finding masculine Halloween costumes for your effeminate son," hinges on.

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The sketch's punchline centers on everyone involved "saying the quiet part out loud" — the things we all knew in 2011 that many conservatives thought and felt, but would never actually come out and say. But nowadays? The rhetoric used by the right-wing when it comes to LGBTQ+ and especially trans people — including children — isn't just of a piece with the "Today Now" sketch. It's orders of magnitude worse.

Aside from constantly accusing LGBTQ+ people of being pedophilic "groomers," commentators on networks like Newsmax and OAN use rhetoric like calling their anti-LGBTQ+ crusades "a war between good and evil" while imploring conservatives to be "more homophobic." 

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And the often fundamentalist Christian, virulently misogynistic and openly retrograde rhetoric all over the right-wing about what it means to be a "real" man, woman and parent — that is, "alpha males" with "submissive, traditional wives" and kids who should be shunned (or worse) for presenting any kind of LGBTQ+ identity — makes a morning-show segment about putting your gay kid in a robot costume so he's unable to walk with a switch seem downright quaint. 

It's a bracing sign of the times that neither this virulent rhetoric nor the outing of these right-wing outlets as openly mendacious liars has dulled the popularity of far-right media. It also doesn't bode well that rhetoric that was once fertile ground for hilarious satire in "The Onion" now falls flat, feeling lamely on-the-nose.

But of course, you'd only notice this if you're well-versed in right-wing media. Today's media ecosystem, which locks us all in "bubbles" and "echo chambers" created by online algorithms that almost exclusively feed us news content that already aligns with our sensibilities, ensures that the majority of us probably have little context for just how out-of-date something like "The Onion's" 2011 satire has become.

And with the 2024 election rapidly approaching and the media coverage thereof already off and running, we would all do well to give that some thought.


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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.