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Chinese Newspaper Publishes Bogus Story From The Onion as Real Deal

By Henry Chu
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- beijing

An embarrassing gaffe by China’s usually staid state-run media has left a popular newspaper here with onion on its face.

Readers of the Beijing Evening News, the capital’s largest-circulation newspaper, learned this week that the U.S. Congress had threatened to move out of Washington unless a fancy new Capitol was built.

“If we want to stay competitive, we need to upgrade,” House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., was quoted as saying. “Look at the British Parliament. Look at the Vatican. ... Without modern facilities, they’ve been having big problems attracting top talent.”

If a new building with more bathrooms and better parking wasn’t erected, the article said, then U.S. lawmakers were prepared to pack up and move to Memphis, Tenn., or Charlotte, N.C.

The story seems newsworthy enough. Trouble is, it was lifted straight from The Onion, the satirical “news” publication based in New York that has caused countless American readers to double over with laughter at its weekly spoofs on current events.

Its story on the Capitol appeared in its May 29 edition, alongside such headlines as “Sexual Tension Between Arafat, Sharon Reaches Breaking Point” and “Man Blames Hangover on Everything But How Much He Drank.”

A writer for the Beijing Evening News apparently picked up the item from the Internet, reworked the opening paragraphs and submitted it to his editors, who then published it as a straight news story, without citing a source.

Nobody, perhaps not even the reporter, appeared to realize it was a joke.

Yu Bin, the editor in charge of international news, acknowledged Thursday that he had no idea where the writer, Huang Ke, originally got the story. Yu said he would tell Huang to “be more careful next time.”

But he adamantly ruled out a correction and grew slightly obstreperous when pressed to comment on the article’s total lack of truth.

“How do you know whether or not we checked the source before we published the story?” Yu demanded in a phone interview. “How can you prove it’s not correct? Is it incorrect just because you say it is?”

For the record, then, an aide to Gephardt said the congressman never made the remarks attributed to him.

And John Feehery, the spokesman for House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert, R-Ill., said his boss never called the Capitol a “drafty old building ... no longer suitable for a world-class legislative branch,” as The Onion and the Beijing Evening News reported.