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Fake Onion story causes real confusion for California town

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

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(The Onion)

Here we go again.

A fake story published by The Onion is causing some real confusion for a California town and the institute that the humor paper satirized.

The Onion published a brief, one paragraph story on October 26 with the headline, "Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults":

SANTA ROSA, CA—A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. "Our research suggests that while overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life's difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood," lead researcher Daniel Porter said. "And, interestingly, we found that anything between those two extremes is equally damaging, always resulting in an adult who suffers from some debilitating combination of unpreparedness and isolation. Despite great variance in parenting styles across populations, the end product is always the same: a profoundly flawed and joyless human being." The study did find, however, that adults often achieve temporary happiness when they have children of their own to perpetuate the cycle of human misery.

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."

"We even had parent educators who work here say, 'When did we do a study?' " added Wendy Hilberman, director of marketing and development for the institute.

There was so much confusion, in fact, that CPI issued a press release on Friday  to clear up the question of which study was real.

"The falsified study quoted in The Onion states that all parenting styles lead to the same outcome--unhappy, miserable adults," the release stated. "We have been around a long time because we know that parent education does work."

This is not the first time a fake news story in The Onion has caused real confusion.

"Generally people recognize The Onion and are familiar with what we do," Onion spokeswoman Anne Finn said in a statement. "However, there are certainly cases of confusion for those that have never heard of us."

Late last month, 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.

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