Some stories are so good they just cannot be ignored, no matter how unlikely they are to be true. So when Chinese government mouthpiece Wen Wei Po reported in December that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek was fed alive to starving dogs, somebody was bound to pick up on it.
That someone, in the end, was the Straits Times, which reported on December 24 that:
According to the [Wen Wei Po] report, unlike previous executions of political prisoners which were carried out by firing squads with machine guns, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides. Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called “quan jue”, or execution by dogs.
Although the South Korean press decided the story was simply too outlandish to report on, a number of international news agencies were quick to jump on it with irresistible headlines such as this one from NBC: Kim Jong Un’s executed uncle was eaten alive by 120 hungry dogs: report.
From there the story spread like wildfire, though most media organisations had the good sense to show some skepticism. Here’s a sampling:
* Is It Remotely Plausible That Kim Jong-un Had His Uncle Eaten By 120 Dogs? – Business Insider
* Did Kim Jong Un feed his uncle to dogs? – BBC News
* Inside the Tale of North Korea Execution by Ravenous Dog – New York Times
These are just a few of the many major news organisations that decided it was worth reporting on. What none of them did – at least from what we read – was to try to find the origin of the story. Blogger Trevor Powell did do some digging, however, revealing that the story likely originated from a Tencent Weibo ‘tweet’ in China on December 11 from a user most likely pretending to be well-known satirist Pyongyang Choi Seongho.
Given that the username is “choiseongho000”, it’s also likely this is simply a copycat account mooching off Pyongyang Choi Seongho’s good name.
It’s amusing that given our faith in modern global news media to get to the bottom of a story, no one has actually gone back to the Wen Wei Po article and caught this. All analysis in the swaths of content that have been devoted to this report since it came out stops abruptly at a linguistic wall between the English language Straits Times story and the Chinese language Wen Wei Po article.
Speculation on what this says about the state of modern-day media could fill volumes, but we think Mark Twain pretty much hits the nail on the head with these few words:
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.