The story of a Guangzhou turtle owner who attempted to smuggle his pet onto a domestic flight in a KFC burger back in 2013 has garnered fresh attention this week from soon-to-be-embarrassed media outlets around the globe.
The incident, for those unfamiliar with it, went viral three years ago when a man, surnamed Li, tried to sneak his pet turtle past security in a fried chicken sandwich before a flight to Beijing. Though a creative attempt, it was ultimately unsuccessful, as he was caught during the standard X-ray screening process.
Back then, the tale received plenty of coverage from both Chinese and Western media agencies, initially finding its way into the pages of the Guangzhou Daily before earning a spot in South China Morning Post, Gawker, Huffington Post and countless others.
Strangely, the story found new life this week when several notable media sites began reporting on – and in some cases, re-reporting on – the anecdote without specifying the year in which the event actually occurred, leading many to believe it was a recent episode.
For the first time in three years, the story popped up last week on August 4, when New Zealand media outlet Stuff published a travel feature titled: ‘Weird ways people try to smuggle illegal things on to planes.’ Admittedly, the Stuff article does not report ‘turtlegate’ as a recent news story – it simply profiles the incident among numerous other smuggling accounts.
As best we can tell, the 2016 news coverage of the story began on August 5, when the Dhaka Tribune reported on it without including a date, citing the South China Morning Post article from 2013 but with no links to back it up.
This was followed by an embarrassing display of sloppy journalism on behalf of The Telegraph, which published a news story on Mr. Li’s turtle escapades on August 8, almost three years to the day it originally covered the story in 2013. In both articles, the Guangzhou Daily is sourced. News.com.au also reported the incident as new on August 8.
The byline from The Telegraph’s 2016 article on Mr. Li’s turtle smuggling attempt.
And the 2013 byline…
This ‘turtle tweet’ from The Telegraph was published on August 8 of this year and has been retweeted a depressing 40 times…
The most recent coverage of Li’s turtle was released yesterday via Sino UK and, you guessed it, also omits the year the case occurred in.
You're likely wondering how so many media organizations failed to recognize ‘turtlegate’ as old news. Our answer is simple: sloppy fact checking. Our accusations of half-hearted journalism are particularly true for The Telegraph, which had to look no further than its own website to see this story is a stale 3-years-old.
Alas, the pitfalls of the modern rapid-fire news cycle.
[Image via SCMP]