Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency has apologised to its readers for republishing – as fact – a fake news article by the US satirical website the Onion.
Fars on Friday picked up the story about a supposed survey showing an overwhelming majority of rural white Americans would rather vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, than Barack Obama, the US president.
But the story was made up, like everything in the just-for-laughs newspaper, which is headquartered in Chicago.
The English-language service of Fars republished the story several days after it appeared in the Onion.
“Unfortunately an incorrect item was released on our website on Friday which included a fake opinion poll on popularity rate of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and US President Barack Obama,” the news agency’s editor in chief was quoted as saying on the Fars website.
“The news item was extracted from the satirical magazine, the Onion, by mistake and it was taken down from our outlook in less than two hours.
“Although it does not justify our mistake, we do believe that if a free opinion poll is conducted in the US, a majority of Americans would prefer anyone outside the US political system to President Barack Obama and American statesmen,” he added.
The Fars apology article then continued by citing a number of blunders by other news outlets.
The Iranian version of the Onion article copied the original word-for-word, even including a made-up quote from a fictional West Virginia resident who said he would rather go to a baseball game with Ahmadinejad because “he takes national defence seriously, and he’d never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does”.
Homosexual acts are punishable by death in Iran, and Ahmadinejad famously said during a 2007 appearance at Columbia University that “in Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country”.
The Iranian version of the article leaves out only the Onion’s description of Ahmadinejad as “a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and has had numerous political prisoners executed”.
The story appeared to have been taken down by about mid-day, Chicago time.
The Onion reveled in the fact that it had been taken seriously.
Will Tracy, the editor of the Onion, put out a tongue-in-cheek statement that referred to Fars as “a subsidiary of The Onion” that has acted as the paper’s Middle Eastern bureau since it was founded in the mid-1980s by Onion publisher T Herman Zweibel.
“The Onion freely shares content with Fars and commends the journalists at Iran’s Finest News Source on their superb reportage,” Tracy said in jest.
It is not the first time a foreign news outlet has been duped by the Onion.
In 2002, the Beijing Evening News, one of the Chinese capital’s biggest newspapers, picked up a story from the Onion that claimed members of Congress were threatening to leave Washington unless the building housing them underwent a makeover that included more bathrooms and a retractable dome.