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The 5 Best Victims Of The Onion

A couple weeks back, North Korea found itself joining that special group of people who were fooled by The Onion, believing the satirical newspaper’s endorsement of dictator Kim Jong-Un as “The Sexiest Man Alive” and reporting the joyous news to its people. Well, they’re hardly the first, as this list shows.

5. ESPN’s Steven A. Smith

Photo: Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The loud and obnoxious pundit doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, which is always a troubling character trait for someone whose profession revolves around holding strong opinions on relatively trivial matters. Believe us, we’ve got strong opinions about baseball’s infield fly rule, but we don’t need to take blood pressure medication because of them. It’s probably no surprise that when the analyst read a headline that reported “Stephen A. Smith Thinking Son is Finally Ready for the Sex Argument,” he ran to his Twitter account and posted more than one 140 character screed calling the story “despicable” and “sad” and noted how disappointing it was to see “how folks try to tear cats down, primarily due to perceived power of the spoken word.” He apologized and laughed when he realized it was a joke but by then, the rest of Twitter had used their “perceived power of the spoken word” to tear Smith a new one.

4. U.S. Rep. John Fleming

Photo: Bill Clark / Roll Call / Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

It’s a fact that politics and humor cannot coexist: If any politician had the slightest sense of humor for even a moment, they’d never make it through a single press conference without bursting into hysterics at the enormous amounts of self-serving bullshit spewing forth from their every orifice. This lack of humor may help explain why Fleming fell so hard for an Onion story about one of the most divisive let’s-argue-about-something-to-distract-folks-from-all-the-money-we’re-making issues of the day—abortion. The paper’s hilarious story on Planned Parenthood’s new “$8 Billion Abortionplex” caught the ire of the Louisiana Republican, so he posted the story on his Facebook page with a very serious update that read “More on Planned Parenthood, abortion by the wholesale.” His office eventually learned that the story was a fake and took it down without any further explanation or apology. The only bright side is that we finally have an explanation of why the House has barely passed any bills since 2011: Most of their members can’t read.

3. The New York Times

Photo: SuperStock | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

No news outlet is immune from making mistakes. They could have an army of underpaid fact checkers, overworked copy editors, and overpaid and underworked executives at their beck and call, and the biggest errors will still seep their way into print. The “Old Grey Lady” herself let just such a mistake through the system in one of its fluffier pieces: The paper’s Sunday “Week in Review” section chronicled the history of Tiger Beat magazine, featuring a realistic-looking cover that included images of the Jonas Brothers teasing secrets about their new album and President Barack Obama proclaiming, “I Sing in the Shower.” The trouble was, the cover in question came from an Onion story called “Barack Obama ‘Tiger Beat’ Cover Clinches Slumber Party Vote.” The paper had to issue a correction the following Sunday but in doing so, they made another, even bigger mistake: They failed to confirm whether or not Barack Obama sings in the shower.

2. The Population Of Santa Rosa, California

Photo: John Lund / Getty Images| Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

If one person fails to grasp the use of sarcasm or satire, it’s understandable. If an entire town does it, it’s a good reason to examine what’s in the municipal water supply. The city’s California Parenting Institute found itself being “quoted” in a fake brief titled “Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults.” The Institute itself got the joke, but that didn’t stop hundreds of locals from calling and emailing to ask about the study that, we stress again for the benefit of Santa Rosa, never actually happened. One of the callers even claimed she was writing a book about that very theory, which at the very least means that Snooki won’t be the only illiterate person with a book to her name.  

1. Iran

Photo: Dennis Van Tine / Retna Ltd. | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Like U.S. politicians, the nation of Iran also lacks a sense of humor, but for a slightly different reason - it’s punishable by death. The nation’s Fars News Agency (Iran’s number one news source on the Great Satan) printed an Onion story verbatim without a hint of irony, reporting that a Gallup poll found that “Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama.” They were so excited that America’s farm belt had fallen in love with their fearless leader that they ran their own version without even sourcing the Onion news story (bad journalism, guys. We know that for a fact; we researched it on Wikipedia). In Iran’s defense (and we never thought we’d say that), it’s an understandable mistake given how well the Gallup poll turned out during the last election.

Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, reporter, humorist and OGLILF ("Old Grey Lady I’d Like To..." well, you know) enthusiast. He can be found on Twitter @thisisdannyg.

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