In what may turn out to be the year’s most ironic hoax, dozens of newspapers are running with The Sun’s story Ewe’ve been conned ladies - you know, the one where the Japanese women though that sheep were poodles:
Entire flocks were imported to Japan from the UK and Australia then sold by the internet company as the latest must have pet.
The bizarre scam was rumbled when Japanese movie star Maiko Kawakami [Ed: topless pics, NSFW] complained on a talk show that her new poodle refused to bark or eat dog food.
News.com.au ran with the story on their front page (and the delightful tag line “Japs tricked into buying lambs they thought were poodles”), but later backed off (though the original story has not been updated). Meanwhile Fairfax is hedging its bets by referring to how ‘the story goes’, a revealing abstraction.
The facts, according to Cerebral Soup, are much more mundane. Kawakami apparently recounted the story, as a joke, on TV - a far cry from having to be told that her dog was a lamb.
So why has this rolled into such a big story? It’s certainly ridiculous enough to warrant the coverage if it was true. I think the reality is that the western world tends to think of Japan as a strange and somewhat unreal place, divorced from nature and obsessed with technology. “Surely,” one might say, “it’s not that far-fetched that somebody as boneheaded as an actress could be taken in by such a scam.”
As with all assumptions, this one reveals more about those who made it (the editors who ran this story on the front page of their websites) than about those featured in it. A little bit of prejudice goes a long way - in this case, a lot further than the fact-checker did.