Sexy Kim Jong-Un Isn't The First Story From The Onion To Dupe The Foreign Media

Photo: The Onion

The People’s Daily: Kim Jong-un as ‘Sexiest Man Alive’While North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has received a litany of titles (mostly from his own party and government), he has yet to be recognised by any Western media as a sex symbol.

So one might think that when The Onion declared the “Pyongyang-bred heartthrob” its “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2012, readers would be suspicious of the article’s seriousness.

Certainly, the list of previous winners – including Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, convicted conman Bernie Madoff, and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski – suggested that the piece might be satirical.

But that conclusion appears not to have been reached in the offices of the People’s Daily. The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece treated the article as a straight-laced story and heralded The Onion’s “honour” of the stout North Korean dictator, complete with a 55-page photo gallery of Mr. Kim, presumably to capitalise on his physical charms.

The Internet was highly amused.

The Onion appreciated the Daily’s efforts as well. Calling the Chinese paper its “proud Communist subsidiary,” The Onion updated its original story to recommend that readers read the Daily’s “exemplary reportage” on the Kim honour.

The People’s Daily has since removed the story from its website.

Iran’s Fars news agency: Rural Americans prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama

With Iran’s economy struggling under US and European sanctions, US President Barack Obama – who championed the sanctions’ implementation – has been none too popular in Tehran.

Given that, the editors of Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars must have been quite pleased when in late September, they found a news story in English reporting that 77 per cent of rural white Americans would “rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than” Obama. Indeed, Fars reposted the story whole hog – and without attribution – on its website.

It was, of course, an Onion article.

Upon realising their error, the Fars editors withdrew the article, replacing it with “our formal apologies for that mistake.”

The unnamed Fars editor-in-chief also noted, perhaps optimistically, that “Although it does not justify our mistake, we do believe that if a free opinion poll is conducted in the US, a majority of Americans would prefer anyone outside the US political system to President Barack Obama and American statesmen.”

Two Bangladeshi papers: Neil Armstrong convinced Moon landings were a hoax

Neil Armstrong, as the first man on the Moon, is the last man you’d expect to call NASA‘s Moon missions a hoax. But that didn’t stop two Bangladeshi newspapers, the Daily Manab Zamin and News Nation, from translating and printing an August 2009 Onion article that claimed Mr. Armstrong said just that.

The Onion cited the fictional Armstrong as telling a press conference that after he read “a few hastily written paragraphs published” by a Moon-landing sceptic, he realised “I had been living a lie.”

“It has become painfully clear to me that on July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module under the control of my crew did not in fact travel 250,000 miles over eight days, touch down on the moon, and perform various experiments, ushering in a new era for humanity. Instead, the entire thing was filmed on a soundstage, most likely in New Mexico,” he “said.”

The newspapers’ editors later apologized for being fooled as easily as faux-Armstrong was.

“We thought it was true so we printed it without checking,” associate editor Hasanuzzuman Khan told the AFP news agency. “We didn’t know the Onion was not a real news site.”

Denmark’s TV 2: Sean Penn’s outrage over not getting [email protected]

Actor Sean Penn has a reputation for occasional angry, grandiose outbursts. That is, of course, the joke behind a 2006 Onion article, wherein Mr. Penn demands to know who took the “[email protected]” email address before he could.

The Onion purported that Penn, in a sometimes salty 1,900-word open letter published in The Washington Post, asked whoever had the Gmail address at issue to “come forward immediately, rather than wallowing in the shame and ignominy of fraud.”

“Sir or madam, if only you could have seen the anger and revulsion that washed over my face as I found that [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] had all been taken,” Penn’s letter read. “If only you could have felt my heart leap to my throat upon realising that [email protected] would not work either, as Gmail addresses are not case-senstitive. If only you could have heard my cry of anguish when, in a last, desperate move, I typed in [email protected], only to be rejected once more and finally forced to accept the abomination that is [email protected]

Denmark‘s TV 2 took the story to be true, and printed an article in Danish on the subject, complete with a poll asking whether Penn was right to be angry. (The article has since been removed, but can still be seen on the Internet Archive.)

To be fair to TV 2, they did list the story under their gossip section.

Beijing Evening News: US Congress threatens to relocate if new capitol not built

“Calling the current U.S. Capitol ‘inadequate and obsolete,’ Congress will relocate to Charlotte or Memphis if its demands for a new, state-of-the-art facility are not met,” The Onion wrote in May 2002.

“Don’t get us wrong: We love the drafty old building,” Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said. “But the hard reality is, it’s no longer suitable for a world-class legislative branch. The sight lines are bad, there aren’t enough concession stands or bathrooms, and the parking is miserable. It hurts to say, but the capitol’s time has come and gone.”

It is likely that the editors of the Beijing Evening News did not recognise the article’s reference to US professional sports franchises’ demands for new stadiums. But one might think that the illustration of a proposed new capitol building with a retractable dome would suggest something odd about the Onion article.

It did not. The Evening News published the story as real.  And initially, even when told the story was satire, the Chinese paper’s international news editor “ruled out a correction, challenging a [Los Angeles] Times reporter to prove that the story was false.”

The Evening News did realise its error a week later, and apologized for its mistake, though it still seemed not to understand The Onion’s satirical nature.

“Some small American newspapers frequently fabricate offbeat news to trick people into noticing them, with the aim of making money,” the paper said. “This is what the Onion does.”

… and US domestic media have been duped, too.

It would be unfair to single out foreign media as the only victims of The Onion‘s straight-faced wit, since the US media have fallen for its stories as well.

In 2010, Fox News‘ Fox Nation subsite treated an Onion story entitled “Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-Word E-Mail” as fact – as did numerous commenters on the story, according to Mediaite.

In 2004, MSNBC‘s Deborah Norville cited a new study as saying “58 per cent of all the exercise done in America is broadcast on television.  For instance, of the 3.5 billion sit-ups done during 2003, two million, 30,000 of them were on exercise shows on Lifetime or one of the ESPN channels.” That study was, naturally, an Onion invention.

And The Onion continues to fool readers every day, as the Literally Unbelievable website reveals.

The Monitor is not presently aware of having treated a story from The Onion as factual. But The Onion’s writers are quite clever, so the possibility can’t be ruled out.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.