NYT publishes net.humor as truth; not retracted

Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Sat, 05 Dec 1998 17:04:53 -0700

New York Times falls for an old Net gag

It seems that the Gray Lady needs a little lesson in Internet humor. A Nov.
15 feature in the New York Times Week in Review section headlined "Lost, and
Gained, in the Translation" chronicled humorous ways Hollywood movie titles
are translated overseas. In Hong Kong, the Times reported, "the demand for
literal descriptions has produced some jarring results. The Cantonese title
for 'Leaving Las Vegas' translates to 'I'm Drunk and You're a Prostitute.'
'Field of Dreams' was 'Imaginary Dead Baseball Players Live in My
Cornfield.' For truth in advertising, you could not beat the title for 'The
Crying Game' -- 'Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis!'"

Funny stuff -- so funny, in fact, that it couldn't possibly be true. And, in
fact, it's not. The Chinese "translations" came from the humor site The Top
5 List, which posts daily Letterman-inspired lists culled from contributors.
Their "Top 15 Chinese Translations of English Movie Titles" parody ran in
late August 1997; at some point, site founder Chris White has discovered,
someone tacked the Top 5 list to a copy of a story from the Wall Street
Journal about movie translations, and it soon was traveling its way around
the Net.

"My guess is that someone saw a copy of that and assumed that if it appeared
in the Wall Street Journal it was legit," says White. "But really, anything
you see in an e-mail you should think about twice."

The fallacious Times story has appeared in a multitude of papers across the
country, as well as on NPR, and although White and others have contacted the
editors at the New York Times, thus far the paper hasn't acknowledged the
goof. But in the meantime, the folks behind TopFive are now having fun at
the newspaper's expense. Today's TopFive list was "The Top 13 Signs Your
Newspaper Isn't Telling the Truth." And just to make things clearer, the
site now has the header: "Note for Journalists -- EVERY WORD IS TRUE!"
-- Janelle Brown