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Fooled by The Onion...again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sometimes fiction is not much stranger than truth.

A case in point took place on Friday, when the Iranian news agency Fars took seriously an article in the humor website The Onion about a fake Gallup poll with a Charleston dateline indicating that most rural white Americans preferred Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Obama.

The Onion article quoted "West Virginia resident Dale Swiderski" as saying that he, along with 77 percent of other rural Caucasian voters, would much rather go to a baseball game or have a beer with Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and had numerous political prisoners executed, than spend time with Obama.

Ahmadinejad, according to the fictional Swiderski, "takes national defense seriously, and he'd never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does," The Onion piece stated. According to the same fictional Gallup poll, 60 percent of rural whites said that they respected that Ahmadinejad at least "doesn't try to hide the fact that he's a Muslim."

"Swiderski's" comments in the fake Onion piece are not all that outrageous, given the fact that the humor site's fake Gallup poll came four months after Texas prison inmate Keith Judd captured 41 percent of the vote in his no-profile campaign to wrest the presidential nomination from Obama in West Virginia's all-too-real Democratic primary. Two years before the primary vote, a nonfictional poll indicated that one in five West Virginians believed the fiction that Obama was a Muslim.

Fars isn't the first foreign news source to fall for a tidbit of fake news from The Onion.

In 2002, China's Beijing Evening News lifted word-for-word translated portions of a satirical Onion piece about the U.S. Congress threatening to move to Memphis or Charlotte unless Washington built them a new Capitol building with a retractable dome.

In 2004, Deborah Norville quoted a fake Onion piece on her MSNBC show claiming that 58 percent of all exercise done in America takes place on television, including 2.03 billion of the 3.5 billion sit-ups done during the previous year, and 99.3 percent of all Soloflex routines.

In 2010, Fox Nation, the Fox News website, posted a satirical Onion piece stating that President Obama had sent a rambling, 75,000-word email to the entire nation voicing his frustrations over everything from America's political culture and his presidency to Boston's Logan Airport and issues with his live-in mother-in-law.

Earlier this year, the Mecklenburg, Va., Republican organization posted a fake item from The Onion on its social media site about Obama's fictional 19-year-old son making a rare public appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The GOP group later added a post wondering why no news organizations picked up the story.

While the editors at The Onion are enjoying seeing their work plagiarized and taken seriously by those they are trying to skewer, they may have to start posting "Contents Include Satire" warning on their work.

And given the acuity of those who fail to see the humor in their work, a definition of "satire" may have to be added to the warning.


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