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Chinese News Agency Fooled by Satirical ‘New Yorker’ Column

Jeff Bezos
CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, who bought "The Washington Post" with full intention

Government news outlet Xinhua picks up and runs with a tongue-in-cheek piece claiming Jeff Bezos bought "The Washington Post" by mistake with an accidental mouse click.

It’s shaping up to be a rough week for the foreign news desk at Xinhua news agency, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese government. On Sunday, the news organization mistakenly published a photo slideshow of images pulled from a fetish porn film, believing they were behind the scenes shots of an execution carried out in the United States.

And yesterday, Xinhua ran a story citing as fact the New Yorker magazine’s satirical "Borowitz Report" column, which claimed Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post by accident while web browsing. Created by comedian and author Andy Borowitz, "The Borowitz Report" lampoons a different current event each week. Xinhua translated his latest column verbatim -- headline: "Amazon Founder Says He Clicked on Washington Post by Mistake" -- and carried it in the international news section of its website.

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“I guess I was just kind of browsing through their website and not paying close attention to what I was doing,” the column “quoted” Bezos as saying. “No way did I intend to buy anything.”

“Mr. Bezos said he had been oblivious to his online shopping error until earlier today, when he saw an unusual charge for two hundred and fifty million dollars on his American Express statement,” the article continued.

It went on to suggest that Bezos was having trouble unwinding the accidental purchase, because of the Post website’s difficult return process – an obvious dig at Bezos’s Amazon.com, which keeps customer service interactions as automated as possible. 

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China isn’t the only country to have mistakenly cited New Yorker satire as breaking news. Last month, Italian news magazine Panorama, a pillar publication in Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire, was fooled by a "Borowitz Report" dispatch alleging that the 76-year-old billionaire was considering entering the race for mayor of New York City. The Berlusconi magazine, apparently not checking in with its beleaguered boss, carried a summary of the article under the headline, “Crazy idea: Berlusconi as mayor of New York.”