Chinese media confuse Trump satire with news

Posted at 6:41 AM, Mar 09, 2017

HONG KONG (CNNMoney) -- An explosive headline about President Donald Trump rippled through Chinese media this week.

But the outlets reporting it overlooked one important point -- the story wasn't real.

Its source was a well regarded U.S. publication: The New Yorker. Chinese news websites slipped up by taking as fact a satirical article by author and comedian Andy Borowitz.

Borowitz' columns are a comic twist on the real news they closely resemble. After Trump accused former President Barack Obama of listening in on his phone calls (without providing any evidence to support the claim), Borowitz' take proved too good to be true for some Chinese news outlets.

Reference News, a newspaper published by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, published a story Tuesday about Trump wandering around in his bathrobe, ordering adviser Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sean Spicer to wrap all the White House telephones in tin foil. It cited the March 4 edition of The New Yorker online.

The New Yorker article in question is a Borowitz Report headlined "Trump Orders All White House Phones Covered in Tin Foil."

Reference News' story -- headlined "Trump turns White House upside down looking for signs of Obama: 'He's still here somewhere, I know it'" -- is a close translation of the New Yorker column, including details like Trump spending a sleepless night supervising the work, and yelling at Conway: "Wrap it tighter!"

Reference News has since taken down the post, but not before the story was picked up by other Chinese language publications, including business magazine Caijing, news portal Sina, and tech giant Tencent's news website.

Chinese media have been fooled by the the satirical New Yorker column before.

In 2013, Xinhua translated a Borowitz Report headlined "Amazon Founder Says He Clicked on Washington Post By Mistake" into Chinese, and reported it as fact. It was taken down after local blogs and The Washington Post reported the mistake.

The People's Daily Online also mistakenly reported an Onion story declaring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the "sexiest man alive" as fact back in 2012.

Following the proliferation of fake news during the U.S. presidential election, The New Yorker took steps to ensure people were not duped by The Borowitz Report. In December, it changed the column's tag line from "the news, reshuffled" to the more direct "not the news," according to Women's Wear Daily.

When the Borowitz' column is shared on social media, a banner prominently displays the blunt tagline.