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‘I want to believe’: Disappointment abounds as New York Times publishes, then deletes article about watermelons on Mars

The New York Times on Tuesday accidentally published an article about watermelons on Mars while testing a content management system.
The New York Times on Tuesday accidentally published an article about watermelons on Mars while testing a content management system.MYCHELE DANIAU/AFP via Getty Images

UFO sightings. SpaceX missions. It’s hard not to find fascination in today’s extraterrestrial happenings. That’s why on Tuesday, when the New York Times published an article with the headline “Fields of Watermelons Found on Mars,” readers were all in.

Lo and behold, the report was published in error, and fields of watermelons have not in fact been found on Mars. Maybe it was author “Joe Schmoe,” or the line “This story is terribly boring,” that gave it away. But within an hour or so of publication, the Times took down the report and clarified that it was a mock article “intended for a testing system” and “inadvertently published” as first reported by Futurism.com.

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Still — the space melons had already made their lasting impression on the Internet, and social media hilarity ensued.

“Tell us the truth about Martian watermelons, NYT! We deserve to know,” one Twitter user said.

“Put it back up, cowards,” another agreed.

The hashtag #watermelons quickly began trending on Twitter, as more readers unpacked the fictional, rather random claim about exobiology.

Adding fuel to the Internet fodder, the fictional scoop attributed the discovery to police, continuing that “the FBI declined to comment on reports of watermelons raining down,” and “watermelon taste good, police say,” according to the archived version of the article.

“I keep telling you that you can’t just quote the police without verifying their claims,” one user said.

It appears that the article was created to test a content management system and was accidentally made public. Mixed-media documentarian Jamal Jordan, who has previously worked for the Times, offered a glimpse into what may have happened:

“When I worked at NYT, part of my job was to show people how to use our CMS, and my worst fear was that my fake article, ‘Psychologists See Rise of Alarming New Trend: Procrastination Baking,’ would get published by mistake. My thoughts are with whomever did this.”

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The article has since been removed, and the page now clarifies the article was published in error.

Check out more of the Twitter chatter below:


Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follower her on Twitter @brittbowker.