Iranian news agency reproduces The Onion article

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Fars News Agency (FNA), an Iranian news agency, yesterday reported an article from US satirical news website The Onion as fact. The article reports "a Gallup poll" suggesting "the overwhelming majority of rural white Americans" would prefer to vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, as opposed to US President Barack Obama. The Onion article reports "77 percent of rural Caucasian voters" saying they would prefer to drink beer with Ahmadinejad or attend a baseball game with him.

Screenshot of FARS News Agency page containing The Onion article.
Image: FARS News Agency / The Onion.

Fictional West Virginia resident Dale Swiderski is reported by the Chicago, Illinois based website saying about Ahmadinejad: "I like him better". 'Swiderski' is also quoted as saying the Iranian President "takes national defense seriously, and he'd never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does."

In Iran, homosexuality is a criminal offence which can carry a penalty of incarceration or capital punishment. Just over five years ago, when he participated in a debate at Columbia University in New York, New York, Ahmadinejad stated "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country".

The FNA copied The Onion's article verbatim and in its entirety, excluding part of a sentence saying Ahmadinejad was "a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and has had numerous political prisoners executed". However, the Iranian news service did not attribute The Onion as its source.

The FNA's error has made international headlines, including in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and India.

A link to the FNA article page redirects to an error message which reads: "Error For Your Request. Not Exist This Story." [sic] However, The Onion included a link to a screenshot of the FNA's page on their original article, accompanied by a message telling readers to "visit our Iranian subsidiary organization" for more information on the story.

There are no reports of the article being republished in Persian. The FNA has yet to comment on the incident. However, The Onion's editor Will Tracy humourously remarked their website "freely shares content with Fars and commends the journalists at Iran's Finest News Source on their superb reportage".

This is not the first time The Onion has caused the mistaken belief of their material being accurate. In a November 2007 interview with Wikinews, The Onion's Editorial Manager Chet Clem recounted an incident in which the Beijing Evening News reproduced a story from The Onion created in 2002, copied entirely verbatim, headlined "Congress threatens to leave DC unless new capitol is built". When the error was highlighted to the Chinese newspaper, Clem said "their response was not to print a correction, but just to say that some newspapers in America make money by printing lies." In a separate incident, Christians forwarded a story on the Internet from The Onion saying children were converting to Satanism as a result of reading the Harry Potter book series.

BBC News Online also reported an instance of two newspapers in Bangladesh apologising over their publication of an article disputing the validity of the moon landings, originally written by The Onion.


 
This story has updates
 
See Iranian news agency apologises for reproducing The Onion article, October 1, 2012
 

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