White House Serves The Onion

The New York Times and Editor & Publisher report that White House associate counsel Grant M. Dixton has sent a “cease and desist” letter to satirical newspaper The Onion for its use of the presidential seal in its spoof of W’s Weekly Radio Address:

Citing the United States Code, Mr. Dixton wrote that the seal “is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement.” Exceptions may be made, he noted, but The Onion had never applied for such an exception.

The Onion was amused. “I’m surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion,” Scott Dikkers, editor in chief, wrote to Mr. Dixton. He suggested the money be used instead for tax breaks for satirists.

More formally, The Onion’s lawyers responded that the paper’s readers – it prints about 500,000 copies weekly, and three million people read it online – are well aware that The Onion is a joke.

“It is inconceivable that anyone would think that, by using the seal, The Onion intends to ‘convey… sponsorship or approval’ by the president,” wrote Rochelle H. Klaskin, the paper’s lawyer, who went on to note that a headline in the current issue made the point: “Bush to Appoint Someone to Be in Charge of Country.”

Moreover, she wrote,The Onion and its Web site are free, so the seal is not being used for commercial purposes.

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