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Chinese President Xi Jinping's ‘Fake’ Taxi Ride Fools State Media

Calling the piece “fake news”, China's state news agency is backpedaling on a report, which appeared in Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper and the agency originally endorsed, about Chinese President Xi Jinping hailing a taxi last month in order to chat with the cabby about the issues of the day.

Ta Kung Pao [zh] newspaper published on April 18, 2013 an interview with taxi driver Guo Lixin who claimed to have driven Xi, who supposedly wanted to experience rush-hour traffic in Beijing. The ride, reminiscent of the undercover trek many Chinese emperors made to meet common folks, known as Weifusifang, appeared to be a media stunt to boost the communist leader's image.

With news outlets rushing to repost the juicy scoop and online discussion about the Xi's taxi ride gaining steam, state news agency Xinhua announced on popular Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo in the early afternoon on the same day that it had confirmed the story with transportation authorities.

However, a few hours later Xinhua announced in a terse news bulletin [zh] that the report was untrue.

In response, Ta Kung Pao newspaper scrubbed the original report from their website and issued an apology [zh]:

  《大公报》4月18日刊发了《北京“的哥”:习近平总书记坐上了我的车》一文。经核,此为虚假消息,对此我们深感不安和万分遗憾。由于我们的工作失误,出现如此重大虚假消息是极不应该的。对此我们诚恳地向读者致歉。我们将以此为鉴,用准确严谨的新闻报道回馈公众。

The Ta Kung Pao ran an article on April 18 called “Beijing cabby: General Secretary Xi took my cab”. We feel deeply upset and extremely regretful about this. Such a major case of false news absolutely should never have happened. We sincerely apologize to our readers. We will take this as a lesson and give readers our accurate news reporting.

Following the move by the newspaper, a number of news portals have retracted the repost. A man claiming [zh] to have fooled the taxi driver in Beijing then appeared online posting photos to prove his likeness to Xi.

Someone turns himself in online, claiming to be the Fake Xi in the cab

A man turned himself in online, claiming to be the fake Xi in the cab.(from Sina Weibo)

Tao Kung Pao’s interview with the 46-year-old cabby Guo, which many later labeled as a hoax, portrayed Xi as a leader with common touch. During the alleded 26-minute drive [zh] through the city, Xi was said to chat with Guo over the city’s chronic air pollution and pay for cabbies. The deleted report also said Xi was accompanied by another man whom it didn't identify.

Chinese media reports commonly cast state leaders in a positive light. Since taking the helm of China in mid-March 2013 as the country’s president, Xi has established a reputation of humbleness thanks to a torrent of media eulogy.

But this time, government-supported newspaper Ta Kung Pao’s attempt to burnish Xi’s image seemed to have backfired, with many netizens crying out in frustration.

Siwen Pizi from Henan wrote [zh] on the Weibo:

官方又证明习大大打车是假新闻,不就是打个车么?有什么不妥的么?一会儿说是真的,一会儿又说是假的!这是闹哪样啊?

There is official confirmation that Xi Boss taxi ride was fake news, wasn't it just taking a taxi? Anything wrong? One moment real, another moment fake! What is going on?

Genni Jiedian Xinfu, also from Henan, raged [zh] on his Weibo account:

彻底无语,不再想多说费话了!太让人失望了,本以为习总真是暗访,却如此结果让人心寒!看到《大公报、合肥晚班》煽自己脸的道歉,忍不住问:新闻报道不需要你们先确认真假吗?还头版头条。

I was speechless completely, I don't want to say anymore! This was very disappointing, I though boss Xi was on an undercover inspection, but the result was so chilly! Ta Kung Pao and He Fei Evening News slapped their faces for issuing apologies, I couldn't help asking: Don't you need to confirm the authenticity of the news before you report it? You guys even treated it as headline news.

Aizai Ye Hehua, a Weibo user from China's eastern Zhejiang province, was in a state of shock and doubt [zh]:

为什么要作假……但是内容为何又是贴近百姓生活……从细节分析……不是一个简单得假……明显排练过……编版过……考虑过……为啥这样……为什么呢??

Why fabricate……when the content was so close to common people's life……To analyze it in detail…..this is not just simply about fabrication…. Apparently it was rehearsed….orchestrated… pre-arranged… Why so… Why???

In reference to the avalanche of media outlets that republished the story as true, American TV network ABC's Beijing producer Karson Yiu joked on Twitter:

Seems like Xi Jinping cab ride story is the Chinese messing with the foreign media. Payback for all those Onion articles they fell for.

Wall Street Journal China Wealth and Luxury editor Wei Gu wrote on Twitter:

The fake Xi turn himself in now. Sadly, most Chinese media fell for the joke.

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