Onion photo of Sears plane about to hit Willis Tower sparks Facebook fury

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

The Onion, America's finest satirical newspaper, was heralded for its coverage of 9/11, publishing its now-classic Sept. 11, 2001, issue—two weeks after the terror attacks—that was both funny and cathartic. But a photo illustration of a Sears-branded plane approaching Chicago's Willis Tower from an Onion video ("Sears Extremists Fly Plane Into Willis Tower") published last week on The Onion's website has sparked a fury among Facebook users who didn't find it very funny.

The image, reminiscent of the planes hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11, has drawn more than 4,000 comments on Facebook—many of them critical.

"This was done in very, very poor taste and should be taken down," Cher Monroe wrote on The Onion's Facebook wall. "It will take many years to heal from 9/11 and this is not one of the ways that healing will happen. And for those who say it's time to forget and just get over it tell that to the families who lost loved ones that day, I dare you."

"This would have been funny if 9/11 never happened," Douglas Groetzinger wrote. "But there will never be a day where it's funny to laugh at the deaths of 3,000 people."

[Also read: Remembering The Onion's 9/11 issue: 'Everyone thought this would be our last']

"I'm a big fan of The Onion," Damien Tippett wrote, "but the thought of the murder of thousands of people is never funny. It will always be too soon."

"I've been an Onion fan for years, but I think this crosses the line," Kelly Davis wrote. "I still love you though, like a child that was really really bad, like got arrested for pot bad. But seriously, I would not like seeing something like this again please."

"Bold, but insensitive," Christian Johns wrote.

"Where's the DISLIKE BUTTON?" Greg Holman asked.

"Unliking the Onion," Adrian Jones declared.

A spokesperson for The Onion declined comment.

[Related: Capitol Police investigating The Onion for fake hostage crisis tweets]

A few Facebook users, though, were not offended, and defended the Onion.

"HEY EVERYONE, THE JOKE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11," Evan Coleman wrote. "Until recently, the Willis Tower was called the Sears Tower. It's a comedy of association. I'm just as sad about 9/11 as anyone, but really, don't go around criticizing The Onion for a joke you clearly assume is about yourself."

"People really need to lighten up," Rick Wathen wrote. "If you're looking at The Onion, then you know what to expect. I think it's funny, sorry some of you don't but you'll be OK."

"What you talkin' 'bout, Willis Tower?" Jay Doughty added.

[Related: Fake Onion story causes real confusion for California town]

It's not the first time that The Onion has been criticized for pushing the envelope of terror-related satire.

Last September, Capitol police in Washington were forced to investigate faux reports from The Onion's Twitter feed proclaiming breaking news of a hostage situation inside the Capitol building.

The stunt was part of a satirical standoff that the Onion Twitter feed was treating as a real-time crisis--writing that Washington police were confronting a rogue group of congressmen who had taken a group of children hostage and demanding $12 trillion in cash to fund federal spending.

A month later, The Onion published a brief, one paragraph story with the headline, "Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults," citing a fake study released by the California Parenting Institute.

The real institute's executives thought The Onion story was funny--at first. But they were soon deluged with emails and phone calls from concerned residents.

"I'm totally aware that it's satire," Robin Bowen, CPI's executive director, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. "But it's spreading through the Internet and people's blogs and where it's coming from is getting left off and it's looking like a news story."