Gotcha!

It was a tale for our times, a tale of love, revenge, straitened circumstances and tragedy amid the world economic downturn that resonated across time zones and cultures all the way from China to New York and beyond, taking in the Time Magazine Beijing blog and the New York Daily News, not to mention a vast array of other newspapers.

According to the Peninsula Metropolis Daily in Lushan in Qingdao Province, a married Chinese tycoon who could no longer support his five mistresses because of the economic slowdown decided to cut back to a single one, hiring a modeling agency to judge a private contest last May to determine which one to keep. A woman surnamed Liu eventually won, after dominating the drinking round of the contest, the report said.

One of the jilted mistresses, a waitress surnamed Yu who lost out because of her looks, drove the tycoon and the other four mistresses off a mountain road, killing herself and badly injuring everybody else in the car, according to the story, which was first picked up by the Shanghai Daily and then Agence France Press, which serviced the story to the world.

There was only one problem. It never happened. The reporter, Yi Lei made the whole thing up, according to translations of documents that appeared on EastSouthWestNorth, a blog that specializes in translating notable stories from Chinese into English.

In a red-faced correction, the Peninsula Metropolis Daily said that in the February issue of the paper’s magazine Yiyin, "Our reporter violated the relevant regulations for our editorial team, damaged the credibility of our newspaper and misled the mass of readers. Our newspaper's editorial disciplinary committee has met and arrived at the decision to dismiss the reporter Yi Lei. Effective immediately today, Yi Lei shall not conduct any news gathering as a Peninsula Metropolis Daily reporter.

"What can I say? We did fall for it," said an editor of a major American publication who said he couldn’t be quoted by name without the permission of his public relations department. "It was a totally irresistible story."

It apparently was a story everybody wanted to believe until an irate reader wrote that "I am a citizen of Lushan city (Qingdao). Over here, we have a newspaper known as the Peninsula Metropolis Daily. On February 15, the newspaper published the completely fabricated story entitled "Troubled boss asked his five mistresses to PK". I have lived in Lushan for 20 years, and I have never heard that there is a [temple named in the story]. Why does the reporter from Peninsula Metropolis Daily want to fabricate a story to smear Lushan and its people as well as Qingdao? Peninsula Metropolis Daily is a bitch! The second paragraph of the story calls this an accident. But the story is clearly about the intentional murder of five persons. Why would the police characterize this as an accident in the incident report? Are the Lushan police stupid, or is Peninsula Metropolis a bitch for not even seeing this contradiction?"

Yi was a masterful fabricator indeed. The translated story, as published by Agence France Presse, reported that the 29-year-old waitress had left a letter behind giving the details of her plan for revenge. She had met the entrepreneur, surnamed Fan, at the restaurant where she worked in Qingdao, and became his lover. Fan, the story said, had set up the five mistresses, two employees, two former clients and the waitress, each with a 5,000-yuan ($733) monthly allowance and rent-free apartments, the report said.

A woman scorned, Yu was humiliated by being eliminated in the first round beauty contest. Fan told her she was not only dismissed but that he was selling her flat. That, the story said, triggered her decision for revenge. After Fan emerged from the hospital with the other four women, he paid Yu’s parents 580,000 yuan in compensation.

In a final humiliation, however, Fan’s wife divorced him after learning of his affairs and the other four mistresses left him as well, something editors should have picked up, since three of the four other mistresses had already been dismissed along with Yu. Unless some women scorned are philosophical about it.