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The Onion apologizes for Quvenzhane Wallis tweet that outraged the Internet

The Onion often tightrope-walks the line between humor and bad taste, but the satirical news site was forced to apologize Monday morning for a distasteful Twitter joke about Quvenzhane Wallis, the nine-year-old star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

The tweet, which went out right at the end of Sunday’s Oscars, read: “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a [expletive], right?” The Onion deleted the tweet — which used just about the most offensive four-letter word to describe female genitalia — approximately an hour later.

The Internet hordes have exploded over the joke, which — as The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum and Time’s Joel Stein point out — was meant to criticize celebrity-gossip culture.

One blogger on Tumblr posted the email addresses of several Onion staffers and said she’d emailed them to suggest “they send one puppy purse per RT and favorite on that disgusting joke.” Wendell Pierce, who played Bunk on “The Wire,” kept up a steady stream of anti-Onion tweets until 3 a.m. Monday morning.

The Onion’s CEO Steve Hannah did issue a rare apology on Monday morning, writing on Facebook that “no person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.” The statement continues:

“Dear Readers,
On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.
No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.
The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.
In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.
Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.
Steve Hannah
The Onion”

That type of mea culpa is unusual for The Onion. In September 2011, after @TheOnion tweeted reports of “screams and gunfire” inside the Capitol, a spokesperson said only “this is satire. That’s how it works,” in response to the outrage that followed.