Chinese media mistakes

satire for news

from the New York Times; March 9, 2017


BEIJING - The story dripped with intrigue.

A frantic President Trump, holding court in a bathrobe, ordered his aides to wrap the White House telephones in tinfoil, several Chinese publications reported this week, citing The New Yorker. There was only one problem: The New Yorker article, by the comedian Andy Borowitz, was satire.

That did not stop the story, purporting to describe the depths of Mr. Trump's worry that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, was eavesdropping on him, from ricocheting across the Chinese internet.

''Trump turns White House upside down looking for signs of Obama: 'I know he's still here!' '' read headlines in respected publications like Caijing, a business magazine, and Sina, a news portal.

Internet readers were puzzled. The state-run news media -- and China's army of censors -- are not known for making jokes. Was this for real? ''This is illness,'' one user wrote about Mr. Trump on Weibo, a microblogging site.

Others were more discerning. ''This was made up and meant to be funny,'' another user said. ''Surprising it was treated as news. Editor, could you be more professional?''

It was not the first time that American humorists have unintentionally duped the Chinese news media.

In 2012, People's Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party, reported that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, had been named ''Sexiest Man Alive for 2012.'' The newspaper based its report on a satirical article in The Onion.

And in 2013, Xinhua, the official news agency, mistook as fact a satirical report in The New Yorker about the purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive. (The New Yorker article said that Mr. Bezos had bought the newspaper by clicking on it by mistake. That piece was also written by Mr. Borowitz as part of his regular column, ''The Borowitz Report.'')

The satirical article about Mr. Trump was published on Saturday, and first picked up in China online and in print on Tuesday by Reference News, a newspaper that translates foreign news and is published by Xinhua. The newspaper removed the story from its website on Wednesday after the Chinese news media reported that it was false.

Fake news articles, conspiracy theories and rumors are rampant on the Chinese internet, and media analysts say it is not surprising that Chinese outlets fall victim to jokes.

''Fake news is undoubtedly a serious problem in China, as it is elsewhere in the world,'' David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, wrote in an email.

Get news and analysis from Asia and around the world delivered to your inbox every day with the Today's Headlines: Asian Morning newsletter. Sign up here.