Wednesday, 28 November 2012

When Fiction Becomes Fact

The story in The Onion that started it all...
The usually staid People's Daily made a serious gaffe on Tuesday.

But it's not going to laugh at its silly mistake any time soon. We are wondering if the foreign experts employed at the media outlet will be punished, or they are saying "We told you so", or if the heads of Chinese editors are going to roll.

That's because the People's Daily online published a 55-web page report on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, saying he was the sexiest man of 2012.

It was following the lead of The Onion, but little did it know it is more of a satirical website than a real news organization.

How did it happen?

According to the Associated Press, Hong Kong media picked up the piece by The Onion a week ago and explained to readers that it was satire. But then it was picked up by mainland Chinese media, firstly by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV website on November 21, it clearly stated, "The Onion is a satirical news organization."

But after that, the story became fact when state-run Yangtse.com picked up Phoenix's story without a mention that the article was a farce and even kept reader's comments.

"A man with so much fat on the face, and the double chin, and the excessively white skin. And they call him the sexiest. They do deserve the name Onion. I can't help but shed sad tears."

The editor responsible for the story, Yang Fang could not be reached and two people who answered the phone there could not confirm if Yang worked there anymore.

Five days later, Guangming Daily in Beijing picked up the story and stated Yangtse.com as the source. Wang Miaomiao, the editor responsible for that story, didn't even know it was a joke until AP called.

A screen grab of the People's Daily online of Kim Jong-Un
"Even if it was satire, the report itself was true, Wang said. "The content is not made up. Also we have to go through a procedure to take something down from the website. In addition, it is not a fabricated report, and it does not jeopardize society."

OK -- we get that no riots erupted over this. But still! It's a fabrication!

After the Guangming Daily, the People's Daily decided to splash the story with significant coverage -- a 55-page slideshow of the North Korean leader.

When the People's Daily realized it was a spoof, it took down the Chinese and English versions on Wednesday, but not before The Onion updated its original piece with a link to the People's Daily and added, "For more coverage on The Onion's Sexiest Man Alive 2012, Kim Jong-Un, please visit our friends at the People's Daily in China, a proud Communist subsidiary of The Onion, Inc."

"Exemplary reportage, comrades," The Onion wrote.

The writers behind the satirical website must be ecstatic over fiction becoming fact.

As we said earlier.. heads are probably rolling as we speak...

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