Chinese state media fooled by satirical story on Washington Post sale

August 8, 2013

Left, the NewYorker.com satirical story on Jeff Bezos's purchase of the Washington Post.  Right, Xinhua's write-up of the report as fact. (Screenshots)

The announcement that Amazon chief Jeff Bezos had purchased The Washington Post surprised a lot of people, but it appears that the folks over at China's ever-serious state media were so taken aback by the news that they briefly lost the ability to differentiate satire from reality. On Thursday, the state-run Xinhua news agency translated into Chinese a heavily satirical story from NewYorker.com on the sale, running it as fact. The story was dutifully re-reported by People's Daily Online and other Chinese media outlets.

The original article, by comedian Andy Borowitz, is titled "Amazon Founder Says He Clicked On Washington Post By Mistake" and included a series of gag references that will be familiar to anyone who ever purchased something online, which is relatively common for urban middle-class Chinese.

As of early this morning, the story was still up on Xinhua, as well as People's Daily Online and China News. The ever-sharp China blog Shanghaiist, which first reported the mix-up, captured a screen shot just in case Xinhua wises up.

This is not the first time that Chinese official media have reported a highly satirical American news story as fact. (Satire might be popular among Chinese citizens, but apparently not in the editorial offices of state newspapers.) In November, People's Daily Online breathlessly reported, as fact, a story in the Onion declaring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be "the sexiest man alive" and "every woman’s dream come true."

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