China’s media is no stranger to getting duped by American political satire.
One of the best known incidents of this took place last November when America’s “finest news source”, the Onion, a satirical newspaper and website, named North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un as its sexiest man of 2012. Soon after, Communist Party publication People’s Daily ran a report on the Onion story, replete with the whacky descriptions of Kim’s “air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side,” and “impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle.” The People’s Daily even put together its own 55-photo slideshow of the “sexy” North Korean leader for the story.
The Onion was thrilled, as you might imagine, posting a link to the People’s Daily story (before it was taken down) urging its readers to “please visit our friends at the People's Daily in China, a proud Communist subsidiary of The Onion, Inc. Exemplary reportage, comrades.” The Onion also sent out an email explaining that the People’s Daily “has served as one of the Onion's Far East bureaus for quite some time, and I believe their reportage as of late has been uncommonly fine, as well as politically astute.” As you also might imagine, the People’s Daily was less thrilled about being duped, taking down the story and refusing to comment on it.
But that unfortunate incident hasn’t prevented it from making a similar gaffe. According to South China Morning Post, numerous Chinese news outlets have picked up a story written by the New Yorker’s satirist Andy Borowitz, and ran it as a real news story. Earlier this week, Borowitz posted a fictitious story on his New Yorker blog, The Borowitz Report, claiming that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had accidently purchased The Washington Post this week while shopping around online. In the report, Borowitz quotes Bezos as saying that he didn’t know how the newspaper—which he purchased for US$250 million—had ended up in his online shopping cart.
“I guess I was just kind of browsing through their website and not paying close attention to what I was doing,” The Borowitz Report pretends to quote Bezos as saying. “No way in hell would I buy the Washington Post. I don’t even read the Washington Post.”
According to SCMP, this story was first picked up by China Radio International (CRI) on Wednesday, and from there a host of Chinese media sites ran with the story, including Xinhua and the People’s Daily. At the time SCMP posted the story, Thursday noon local time, the story had been taken down by CRI but not by Xinhua. SCMP has saved screenshots for whenever someone cues the outlet in on the joke.
As SCMP points out, this is not even the first time a Chinese media outlet has been duped by The Borowitz Report…. this year. In April, one Chinese media outlet ran a story by Borowitz that claimed that the reason North Korean wasn’t testing its missiles is because it was having issues with its Windows 8 operating system. Making matters worse, in running the story the 21st Century Business Herald claimed to quote North Korean state media as saying that Pyongyang "was working with Windows 8 support to resolve the issue,” something it obviously fabricated.
This is obviously hilarious. At the risk of reading too deeply into these incidents, one might be tempted to point out that the fact that China’s state media outlets keep getting duped by satire that would intuitively come off as such to any American, demonstrates just how wide the culture divide is between China and the U.S. This, in turn, has wide-ranging implications for U.S.-China political and military relations.
However, this interpretation wouldn’t be correct, at least entirely. While the state media outlets might not get the joke, China’s “netizens” almost always do, and ridicule the Chinese papers for falling for such outrageous pranks.
“Even a pupil could tell it's a joke,” one Chinese citizen wrote on Weibo, according to SCMP. Another joked that they wish someone would click on CCTV—the state run news broadcaster that is required to be carried by local stations once each day— and make it go away.
And Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with John Stewart has become extremely popular among certain crowds in China, with some asking, “When will China have its own John Stewart?”