China’s official Communist Party newspaper treated a satirical article naming North Korean leader Kim Jong-un the “Sexiest Man Alive” as a genuine report. The report by the People’s Daily quotes The Onion, a humor newspaper, and includes a fifty-five image slideshow of Kim, from the People’s Daily Online:
“With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile,” it said.
“He has that rare ability to somehow be completely adorable and completely macho at the same time,” said Marissa Blake-Zweiber, editor of The Onion Style and Entertainment.
Although the People’s Daily has been known to be a stern follower of the party line, the online version can print more controversial stories than its print version, The Washington Post adds:
The text of the slideshow stopped there, omitting past winners of the Onion’s sexiest man alive award, which include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, convicted investor Bernard Madoff, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Mr. Zweibel himself.
It isn’t clear what the People’s Daily editors were thinking. They couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday.
To be fair, the People’s Daily website can be a saucier read than its staid print version. (Sample headline from Tuesday’s overseas print edition: “India Should Resist the Impulse to Engage in Trade Protectionism.”) It is operated by People.cn Co., a publicly listed company that is controlled by the People’s Daily but has its own profit and audience targets and competes with a number of digital platforms that have popped up in China in recent years. Recent audience-grabbing features on the website and in other People’s Daily-associated sites include photo slideshows of attractive women at this month’s Communist Party Congress, China’s top 10 nude models and a group that claims to be China’s national pole-dancing team.
The Onion has also responded to the the reprinting of their article on the People’s Daily, according to The New York Times:
The editors of The Onion, for their part, added an update to their report on Tuesday, reading: “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.”
Regular readers of The Lede will be aware that this is not the first time The Onion has been apparently mistaken for a news organization by journalists. In September, Iran’s Fars News Agency plagiarized The Onion, running an edited version of a satirical report as if it were real, and then defended itselfby claiming that the fake news item had uncovered a deeper truth.
As The Lede suggested in September, the increasingly lighthearted tone in the reports of many serious news organizations, as they compete for attention on social networks in the Internet era, could be making such mistakes more common.
The image of North Korea’s leader featured on the People’s Daily home page on Tuesday, for instance, was taken from a recent Time magazine cover that referred to him as “Lil’ Kim,” playing on a joke frequently made by bloggers who use the name of a female rapper to refer to the young leader.
This is not the first time that Chinese media has mistaken The Onion for a genuine source of news, The Washington Post adds:
People’s Daily could not immediately be reached for comment. A man who answered the phone at the newspaper’s duty office said he did not know anything about the report and requested queries be directed to their newsroom on Wednesday morning.
It is not the first time a state-run Chinese newspaper has fallen for a fictional report by The Onion.
In 2002, the Beijing Evening News, one of the capital city’s biggest tabloids at the time, published as news the fictional account that the U.S. Congress wanted a new building and that it might leave Washington. The Onion article was a deadpan spoof of the way sports teams threaten to leave cities in order to get new stadiums.
Update: AP interviewed a People’s Daily editor who acknowledged that the Onion report was satirical:
“We have realized it is satirical,” said the editor who works on the site’s South Korea channel, one of the three channels where it was posted. He refused to give his name. When asked whether editors knew the Onion piece was satirical when the People’s Daily item was first posted, he declined to clarify, but added that they picked up the news after first seeing it on China’s state-run Guangming Daily website.
He said that he hoped the incident wouldn’t draw too much attention.
See Also The Onion on China, via CDT.