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Chinese Baby Capsules: Is This Real?

by John on 05/07/2012

Here’s a good example of how YOU must be the most important journalist in your life.  That means check it out yourself – before you tell everyone it is a real story.

This incredible story starts hitting the web this afternoon.  A number of local TV news stations ran it on their sites:

SEOUL, South Korea — Add this twist to the scourges of human trafficking and flesh peddling: Pills sold as Viagara-style performance enhancers that contain the powdered tissue of aborted fetuses and dead infants.

South Korea has seized nearly 17,500 of the bizarre capsules from tourists’ luggage and international mail since last August, according to the state-run Korea Customs service said in a statement Monday.

A horrific story, no doubt; but was it true?

Alternet, a liberal leaning news site, picked up the story – with very emotional overtones.

These pills’ existence has been rumored for years, even the subject of a documentary. Because I can barely bear to write another word on this one, read more about this seriously disturbing news at the Atlantic Wire and at Geekosystem.

 What was odd to me was this: there was very little attribution.  The stories quoted the customs service in South Korea, but no one in particular.

 Next, some TV news sites said the story appeared in the San Francisco Times.  I didn’t think there was a San Francisco Times – and I still can’t find it.  (Maybe we should start it.)

 There were also sites that weren’t news sites that were running the story.

 But at the bottom of one online story from an NBC affiliate, it said this:

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.

When you see the Associated Press reporting a story, you should feel safe.  But I wasn’t.  Someone could have written this line.  And usually when an AP story is run by another news outlet, the AP slug is usually at the top of the story.

SEOUL, South Korea – AP —

But the AP slug was not there.  There’s a reason: news organizations don’t want you to know they rely so heavily on the AP since most news shops have cut back on reporters with boots on the ground.

So, I called the AP in New York.  Someone at the news desk confirmed the story had been released on the AP Asia Wire.

OK. It’s legitimate — as a news story goes.  You can quote the AP as a source for the story.

But this does not mean you should take this story as gospel.

  • First, there is a lot of China bashing going on.  We’ve heard about the Chinese dissident who railed against forced abortions to keep China’s one-child rule.
  • Second, news organizations – especially local TV news sites – have a tendency to run stories that everyone else is running.  There could have been a lemming effect here.
  • Third, maybe, just maybe, the AP got it wrong.
  • Fourth, there is not a lot of confirmation.  No one is stepping up and saying on the record, “I saw this.  It’s true.”

Don’t settle for answers.  Even when you think the final word has been written – ask again.


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