There are a couple of telltale signs that Andy Borowitz’s August 6 post, “Amazon Founder Says He Clicked on Washington Post by Mistake” — in which it is reported that Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post for $250 million by accident — is a fake news story. First of all, it is not possible to buy companies like that. Secondly, Andy Borowitz is a person who writes fake news stories. Every time you see Andy Borowitz’s name next to a news story, you can bet it’s a fake news story. Every single time.
Nevertheless, at least four Chinese media outlets, including the official state news agency, reported the Borowitz joke as real news. “It was first translated and picked up by China Radio International (CRI) on Wednesday,” according to the South China Morning Post. “It later appeared on the websites of of Xinhua state news agency, People’s Daily and Phoenix News on Wednesday, as shown by screenshots saved by readers.” The story is still live on Xinhua’s website.
Let’s be fair, though: It’s obviously more difficult to pick up on the subtleties of humor when that humor is written in a different language, or appears in an outlet with which you may not be intricately familiar. We once fell for a fake news story from a satirical Canadian radio show because we thought it was a legitimate news source, and because the story was not so blatantly absurd as to be impossible.
But you learn from your mistakes. We’ll probably never trust Canadians for the rest of our lives. And Chinese editors, at the very least, would be wise to just write “The Onion” and “Andy Borowitz” on a Post-it note and reference that Post-it note before publishing any quirky news coming out of America.