The Onion Explains CNN and Miley Cyrus

It’s funny because it’s true.

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Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performs onstage during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke perform onstage during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, in New York City.

Being firmly entrenched in middle age and something of a crank, I didn't watch MTV's Video Music Awards. In fact to demonstrate my cranky old man cred, I will add the obligatory comment: The last time I watched the VMAs, MTV actually played music videos. And yet I know all about Miley Cyrus' lewd gyrations with singer Robin Thicke. Why is that? Because I have CNN on at my desk all day long, so I got to watch the controversial Miley Cyrus clip yesterday, all day long.

Why, one might ask, was this news that merited wall-to-wall coverage on the world's best known 24-hour cable "news" channel? To answer that question, one need only turn to America's finest news source, The Onion. The satirical publication posted an op-ed yesterday under the byline of Meredith Artley, the managing editor of CNN Digital. (Artley's a real person, the op-ed is Onion satire.)

[Check out our gallery of political cartoons.]

The Onion piece has the virtue of being funny (and, really, not funny) because it's spot-on true. Why "Artley" writes, did CNN's website give such prominent play to the story?

It's a good question. And the answer is pretty simple. It was an attempt to get you to click on CNN.com so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.

There was nothing, and I mean nothing, about that story that related to the important news of the day, the chronicling of significant human events, or the idea that journalism itself can be a force for positive change in the world. For Christ's sake, there was an accompanying story with the headline "Miley's Shocking Moves." In fact, putting that story front and center was actually doing, if anything, a disservice to the public. And come to think of it, probably a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of people dying in Syria, those suffering from the current unrest in Egypt, or, hell, even people who just wanted to read about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

But boy oh boy did it get us some web traffic.

[Read Leslie Marshall: Miley Cyrus’ VMA Performance Was Sad, Not Sexy]

The piece goes on at length about page views, bounce rate … and all could have come out of a 101-level course on generating Web traffic. Then there's this bit:

To be sure, I could have argued that Miley Cyrus' performance merited the top spot on our website because it was significant in terms of what's happening in the world of pop culture, or that her over-the-top theatrics are worth covering because they are somehow representative of the lengths to which performers must go to stand out in the current entertainment landscape. But who … are we kidding? Truth be told, anything at last night's VMAs short of Lady Gaga beheading Will Smith with a broadsword belongs tucked away in our entertainment section, far from the homepage, far from the top spot, and far from the eyes of anyone who logged on to our site this morning to see what was happening in the world.

The Onion piece went viral of course. The kicker to the story is that the real Meredith Artley appears to have replied to the piece via her Twitter account: "To clarify, I did not write" the Onion piece, Artley tweets. "But I accept all compliments and deny all accusations. Tx for the page views."

Thanks for the page views indeed.

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