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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Something Missing in Chinese Newspaper\'s Entirely Accurate Summary of Onion Report

A state-run newspaper in China reported, accurately, that The Onion has named North Korea's leader its Sexiest Man Alive for 2012. Left unsaid in the report, which was featured on the English-language home page of People's Daily Online on Tuesday, is whether the editors of the Chinese Communist Party's newspaper are in on the joke that the American publication is, well, kidding.

A screenshot from People's Daily Online on Tuesday. A screenshot from People's Daily Online on Tuesday.

Although the People's Daily report, accompanied by a 55-photograph slide show, clearly cited The Onion, there was no reference in either English or Chinese to the fact that the original item was satirical.

The Chines e newspaper's three-paragraph report read:

An entirely accurate summary of a report from The Onion by the Chinese Communist Party's newspaper. An entirely accurate summary of a report from The Onion by the Chinese Communist Party's newspaper.

… The Onion has named North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un as the “Sexiest Man Alive for the year 2012.”

“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.

For some reason, the editors in Beijing chose to omit the section of the Onion report which listed “prior ‘Sexiest Man Alive' winners,” including:

- 2011: Bashar al-Assad

- 2010: Bernie Madoff

- 2009: Charles and David Koch (co-winners)

- 2008: Ted Kaczynski

The Associated Press tried and failed to reach the editors of People's Daily for comment late on Tuesday in Beijing.

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 itself by claiming that the fake news item had uncovered a deeper truth.

Fars also pointed at the time to the ever-expanding list of news organizations that have been mistaken The Onion for a news source. Among them, as The A.P. explained, is another Chinese paper, the Beijing Evening News, which picked up a story from The Onion in 2002 “that claimed members of Congress were threatening to leave Washington unless the building underwent a makeover that included more bathrooms and a retractable dome.”

A screenshot of the People's Daily home page on Tuesday. A screenshot of the People's Daily home page on Tuesday.

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.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.