2017-01-19 10:28:58

A feel-good news story about an elderly man and a warm quilt is garnering attention from readers — but for all the wrong reasons.

An article highlighting a government community care campaign that ran in a local newspaper in southwestern China’s Sichuan province on Jan. 10 described the gratitude expressed by Zhao Quangui, 62, upon receiving a donated blanket.

“The new quilt is so warm and nice,” the Neijiang Evening News cited the man as saying. “It’s surely going to be very comfortable to sleep under at night!” In the next paragraph, the article gave more details about Zhao: He’s single, lives a difficult life, and has a speech disorder that renders him unable to talk.

Net users were quick to respond, with many questioning or poking fun at the journalist and the newspaper’s editors.

“Is there a mistake in the article, or is it fake news?” an account affiliated with the China Communist Youth League asked on microblog platform Weibo, adding that it sought explanation as to how a man who can’t speak could be quoted.

“I feel sorry that the reporter and editor are not being awarded a Pulitzer Prize for making up such bizarre news,” wrote one Weibo user. Others joked that the quilt in question possessed magical powers that had done away with Zhao’s disability.

Still, some people pointed out that even without the ability to speak, Zhao could have expressed his delight through other means of communication, such as sign language. 

One community caregiver surnamed Li, who knows the interviewee, told Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, that he felt there was nothing wrong with the way the newspaper quoted Zhao, as the elderly man usually uses a pen and paper to communicate.

“There’s no contradiction in what the reporter wrote,” said Li.

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the Neijiang Evening News apologized to its readers, blaming “a lack of sense” on the part of both reporting and editing staff, as well as poor fact-checking. The article gave a “false impression” that had a “negative influence on the readers,” it added.

The news outlet said that those involved would be dealt with in a serious manner, but the statement did not elaborate.

(Header image: Susana Vera/Reuters/VCG)