When Satire Goes too Far… Bangladeshi Papers Believe It

onion-logo

In recent news, two Bangladeshi newspapers apologized for publishing an article taken from the satirical US news website “The Onion.”

The article in case claimed that the Moon landings were faked and that the source of this information was quoted Neil Armstrong himself who allegedly said in a news conference that the whole “moon landing” was an “elaborate hoax.”

Neither The Daily Manab Zamin nor The New Nation realized that The Onion was not a genuine news site – and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. If you search for “The Onion” online, the first thing you will see in Google’s search results is the following title: “The Onion – America’s Finest News Source.” There you have it. No reference to “satire” in the title. Just plain and simple “America’s Finest News Source.” So we cannot blame foreigners who are not aware of America’s sense of humor for believing what they read in the country’s “finest news source” now can we?

The Onion as it appears in Google Search results.

The Onion is a fine publication, indeed. They do go too far sometimes, but as a general rule their “news” do have a “je ne sais quoi” that makes people smile. Unfortunately there are many people who are tempted to believe their stories, because America’s finest news site fails to disclose the “satire” up front. Considering that The Onion is published in an international environment, where cultural differences abound, it’s probably a good idea for the site to disclose its intent somewhere visible. As it stands today, The Onion has no disclosure on its front page, and no visible link to an about page. The only place where I could find that The Onion is a satirical publication was the Privacy Policy page, under “Copyright”:

The Onion is a satirical newspaper published by Onion, Inc.

The Onion uses invented names in all its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental.”

In my opinion, The Onion is not playing the game fair and the fact that they don’t disclose that they run a satirical newspaper will continue to generate confusion in the future.

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Comments

  1. GSW says

    While I agree that “humor translates poorly,” I don’t think that relieves the republishing newspaper of responsibility for checking the sources of what it prints. Multiculturalism and the ambiguities that it sometimes creates should be a Bangladeshi newspaper’s concern as well as an Onion concern and both could take action to benefit from this experience.

  2. says

    I fully agree with Liliana Dumitru-Steffens articulation. We live in a multicultural world, where one’s wit, sarcasm and satire are not always evident – which is why humor translates poorly.

    The Onion provides levity – they should correct their banner head to make it clear to the reader that the “tongue is firmly in the cheek”

  3. Laurel says

    I looked at The Onion’s site on the day the Armstrong article was published, and the front page also featured a video asking if using a minotaur (a mythical beast) to gore detainees should be considered torture. Shouldn’t that have made it obvious that this wasn’t a serious news site, even without a prominent “satire” label?

    • Mihaela Lica says

      I am not sure that the Bangladeshi reporters saw what was featured on the front page. Usually articles are featured on a single page.

  4. GSW says

    Adding “satire” somewhere prominent might increase Onion’s appeal, newspapers anywhere should bear some responsibility for knowing about their sources before they publish. It’s a two-way street.

    • Mihaela Lica says

      I think you are right, GSW – as a former journalist I can tell you that proofing the source is a must. But in the “News” business people are too often in a hurry. I guess the Bangladeshi newspapers had a taste of what publishing news without double checking the facts can do to their reputation.

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