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How did a spoof article about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un being the sexiest man alive end up as a real news item in China? Turns out it was a case of telephone, or Chinese whispers, in the digital age.
Hong Kong media picked up the piece by U.S. satirical website The Onion a week ago while explaining to readers in Chinese that it was a farce. But from there, it jumped over the Great Firewall and landed into the official, irony-free Chinese media.
When Hong Kong's Phoenix TV website, ifeng.com, ran its story on its fashion channel on Nov. 21, the story's second paragraph clearly stated: "The Onion is a satirical news organization.''
But, when state-run Yangtse.com picked up the Phoenix piece a few hours later, it had morphed into straight news. The piece never mentioned that the original was a joke, instead plucking comical reader comments attached to the Phoenix story and running those.
"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 cited for the story, Yang Fang, could not immediately be reached _ and two employees who answered the phone at the Nanjing media outlet said Wednesday they weren't even sure if Yang still worked there.
Five days after the Yangste piece, Beijing's Guangming Daily website took the story for a spin, trimming its length and citing Yangtse.com as its source. The Guangming piece was still online Wednesday and the story's editor told The Associated Press that she had not realized it was a joke until the AP called.
The editor, Wang Miaomiao, said she wasn't worried about the gaffe.
"Even if it was satire, the report itself was true. The content is not made up. Also, we have to go through a procedure to take something down from the website,'' Wang said. "In addition, it is not a fabricated report, and it does not jeopardize society.''