The satirical newspaper The Onion is not giving up the gag after one of its Tweets Thursday morning prompted a U.S. Capitol Police investigation.
The tweet, which read "BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building," went out to more than 3 million followers, and gave no indication that it was a joke. Some quickly suggested that the account had been hacked; an Onion spokesman said that was not the case, and the joke became obvious in a follow up Tweet: "BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage."
Still, the initial claim was taken seriously enough that the U.S. Capitol Police released a statement that "twitter feeds are reporting false information concerning current conditions at the U.S. Capitol."
"Conditions at the U.S. Capitol are currently normal," it said. "There is no credibility to these stories or the twitter feeds. The U.S. Capitol Police are currently investigating the reporting."
The Onion's Twitter page eventually linked to a satiric story describing the supposed situation, which claimed that a bipartisan group of lawmakers had barricaded themselves in the Capitol with child hostages and demanded $12 trillion.
It quotes House Speaker John Boehner telling negotiators that if they don't pay the money, "we're going to shoot one kid an hour, starting with little Dillon here," and portrays Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as wearing black pantyhose over his head.
Some on Twitter condemned the Onion for its initial Tweet, complaining that it was not funny and in poor taste. But the satiric newspaper did not back down, instead unleashing a series of Tweets furthering its "story." Among them: "Extra demands include transport to Dulles airport with fueled-up private jet waiting on runway. McCain expected to fly it." and "Obama: 'I know this Congress well. Trust me, they will kill these kids.'" The site also ran another story claiming the hostage negotiation talks had stalled.
That satiric follow-up story quoted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, "many important questions still remain: How will the ransom money be allocated? How can we cut needless expenditures such as individual ski masks for every congressman? Should there be a stipulation to take one of the children with us to ensure a clean getaway?"