OPINION: OK, OK so a spoof report naming North Korean Kim Jong Un as Sexiest Man Alive was taken at face (or moonface) value and reported as legitimate news in China's Communist Party newspaper.
Whatever his attributes - and look, so far no nuclear war, right? - Kim is not conventionally goodlooking, at least by Western standards.
So let's just put it down to a cultural misunderstanding that The People's Daily arched not an eyebrow when it ran a report happily citing his "devastatingly handsome round face, his boyish charm and his strong, sturdy frame, the Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman's dream come true."
Here's where we need to remind ourselves that North Koreans themselves were fed some extraordinary reports from their own state media about the attributes of Kim's dad, Kim Jong Il. You may recall that he could control the weather, he scored 11 holes in one during his very first round of golf, and he didn't ever defecate.
It's one of the lesser risks of the modern communication age that the sheer volume of satire, quite apart from its quality, is such that every now and then some of it creeps into media report.
Regardless of what you may have read elsewhere, pop diva Mariah Carey didn't really deliver the notorious quote while she was empathising with a reporter about starving African children: "I mean, I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff." That was a satirist putting words in her mouth. She must have found it chastening how much traction that quote received; as if people regarded a comment of such egocentric dimness as somehow, in her case, believable.
Similarly, let the record show that the Rev Al Sharpton never really told off Tiger Woods for a lack of racial diversity in his mistresses.
Patients on life support didn't die after a San Francisco hospital shut off its power in observance of Earth Hour.
The US Congress never considered passing the "Americans with No Abilities Act" at the prompting of advocates for the millions of Americans who lack any real skills or ambition.
Admittedly a woman did write to a US paper in 2007 suggesting that an early start to Daylight Saving Time contributed to global warming. But she wasn't serious.
No Indiana congressman ever introduced legislation to change the name of Interstate 69, for reasons we needn't go into here.
And during the recent US presidential elections when President Obama was gladhanding people like a good'un, it didn't lead to hundreds of people with physical ailments reporting themselves healed by his very touch.
Satire, done well, has a tincture of plausibility. A wouldn't-put-it-past-'em quality. News media do need to be careful.
But no less careful, come to that, than they should be not to assume that some of the weirder reports and utterances could only be satire. Because sometimes . . .
- © Fairfax NZ News
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