On Wednesday, the New York Times homepage took a leap into the meta by putting a doctored photo from The Onion into the lede. In a spot normally reserved for breaking news, they plopped a photoshopped image of bare-chested Joe Biden grinning at the camera while washing "his" spiffed up Pontiac muscle-car. Authored by Jeremy W. Peters, the article surveyed the vice president's mock escapades as reported by the nation's finest satirical news source. The prominent placement of the picture, and the awkward phrasing of the caption ("This photo illustration is NOT the Vice-President washing his car") caused confusion and amusement across the Web.

Was it a cheap traffic grab? A social experiment by Times editors? Sadly, the Internet offers no definitive explanations. Only derisive quips, sarcastic explanations and earnest musings:

  • The Awl - "Serious Newspaper Article About Parody Newspaper Article Has To Be A Joke, Right? I mean, did they invent some new kind of 'meta' and not tell me about it?"
  • Slate - "For some reason, people really want to believe that Biden is a shambling goon....The public demand for Biden to be more like Harry Nilsson or Burt Reynolds is insatiable."
  • Splitsider - "Come on, you know Biden loves these things. If there's anyone who would appreciate seeing their own face in a popular publication no matter what the context, it's Biden."
  • The New York Observer - "The Onion has been pretty consistent in showing Vice President Biden as some kind of aging swinger. Next up, apparently: he'll be living on a houseboat."
  • The Atlantic - "I wonder what the Times is gunning for here? Trying to shake the 'Gray Lady' moniker? Nervous that Huffington Post is challenging its traffic? It's sort of like watching a sad old man buy a Trans Am in a desperate bid for youth..."