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View Retractable Capitol Dome

Type: Satire Mistaken as News
Summary: A Beijing newspaper mistakenly reported that the U.S. Congress was demanding the installation of a retractable Capitol dome.


On June 3, 2002, the Beijing Evening News scooped its competitors with a shocking story from America: the U.S. Congress was threatening to leave Washington DC if the city didn’t construct a new Capitol building that included a retractable dome. Congress was apparently even considering a move to a town such as Memphis or Charlotte if the DC city government did not buckle under to its demands.

The article quoted House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) as saying, “Don’t get us wrong. We actually love the dilapidated [old] building. But the cruel reality is, it’s no longer suitable for use by a world-class legislature. Its contours are ugly, there’s no room to maneuver, there aren’t enough bathrooms, and let’s not even talk about the parking.”

Skepticism

The article struck Henry Chu, a Beijing-based reporter for the Los Angeles Times, as rather odd. Why would American papers not be covering such a dramatic political development, he wondered? Chu decided to do some fact checking. What he discovered was that American papers were covering the story. In fact, an American publication had been the source for it. However, that publication was the Onion, a humor magazine whose stories are clearly recognizable (at least to American readers) as satire.

Chu surmised that a reporter for the Beijing Evening News had simply translated the Onion‘s story almost word for word, not realizing that the article was a satirical take on the relationship between sports teams and their host cities. The Evening News had then printed the tale as fact without indicating its source.

Defensive Reaction

Chu questioned the Evening News about the story, but the paper’s international editor reacted defensively to his suggestion that its reporting was inaccurate. “How can you prove it’s not correct?” The editor demanded. “Is it incorrect just because you say it is?”

The editor of the Onion, by contrast, happily admitted that the story contained not a word of truth. He commented, “Wow, even journalists now believe everything they read.”

The retractable capitol dome story printed by the Beijing Evening News is an example of satire mistaken as news—a phenomenon that is occurring with increasing frequency due to the proliferation of news (and satire) sources on the internet.

References

  • Henry Chu. (June 7, 2002). “Reeled In by a Spoof, Chinese Daily Shrugs Off Its Capitol Error.” Los Angeles Times.

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