Pranking the New York Times -- and the point is what, exactly?

9 years ago

By now, you've probably heard that last Wednesday, the morning commuter crowds in Manhattan and a few other US cities were the targets of an elaborate prank. Volunteers distributed 1.2 million copies of a bogus edition of the New York Times dated July 4, 2009 and boasting the banner headline: "Iraq War Ends." An anti-corporate activist group called the Yes Men claimed responsibility for the hoax.

You can read the web version of the paper here. Rocketboom filed this video report:

 
Along with the Iraq War article, the other fake articles read like a progressive's holiday wish list:
  • National Health Insurance Act Passes
  • Ex-Secretary Apologizes for WMD Scare
  •  USA Patriot Act Repealed
  • Courts Indict Bush on High Treason Charges
An editorial clarifies the paper's real-world message to fellow activists:
 
Two years ago, who would have dared to image we’d elect, as President
of the United States, an African-American community organizer?  ...Although we demanded change of Barack Obama, we understood that only we could bring about that change.
In a press release posted to LeeSean.net, Bertha Suttner, described as one of the fake paper's writers, explained:
“It’s all about how at this point, we need to push harder than ever. We’ve got to make
sure Obama and all the other Democrats do what we elected them to do.
After eight, or maybe twenty-eight years of hell, we need to start
imagining heaven.”
 
A blogger identified as Anne Elizabeth Moore offered a behind the scenes account of her reported involvement as the original editor of the project. (Moore said she bailed just over a month before the project appeared because she felt it had strayed from its original purpose of "presenting a model for real political empowerment."
 
BlogHer community member 52 Faces thinks the prank is a hoot. Media historian Alex S. Jones said the Times should take the parody as a complinent. Tim King likened the Yes Men's tactics to those of the Biblical prophets of old. A query to my twitterverse yielded the comment that the prank was "Unfiltered awesomeness."
 
And the folks and the National Public Radio show, On the Media, remind listeners that hoaxes have a long, storied history in newspapers.
 
For its part, the real New York Times demonstrated its exceeding grasp on the obvious in a blog post that featured this comment from spokeswoman Catherine J. Mathis:
 “This is obviously a fake issue of The Times. We are in the process of finding out more about it.”
The Times brass is likely measuring the trade-off between protecting its brand and looking like an old-media bully, as opposed to going along with the joke and risking further parodies that could further weaken their already anemic corporate health. Besides, what the Yes Men did to the New York Times isn't nearly as embarrassing as the way they faked out the BBC in 2005 by claiming to be Dow executives who had decided to take full responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal disaster. 
 
 
 
 
 So do you think all is fair in the war for public attention? Or do the Yes Men's parodies go too far?
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