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Pranksters get the last laugh

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

Two major news organizations have been either mocked or fooled by fake news and faux publicity created by pranksters exhibiting a deft touch and a definite agenda.

Both the New York Times and MSNBC are squirming for different reasons in the aftermath.

On Wednesday, 1.2 million copies of the Times were handed out to surprised commuters in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and other cities - dated July 4, 2009 and emblazoned with such headlines as "Iraq War Ends" and "Patriot Act Repealed."

Though exacting replicas, the papers were fakes - produced by "liberal pranksters," according to Times reporter Sewell Chan.

In the hyperactive new world of news, those spoof papers became instant collectibles and are now fetching more than $100 each on eBay, the online auction house.

The pranksters - who included an art professor and the Yes Men, a 500-member collective of self-proclaimed "imposters" and "hijinks" specialists - had ulterior motives behind their $100,000 hoax, though.

"It's all about how at this point, we need to push harder than ever," said Bertha Suttner, a collaborator. "We've got to make sure [Barack] Obama and all the other Democrats do what we elected them to do. After eight, or maybe 28 years of hell, we need to start imagining heaven."

The mock paper - as well as a Web site, www.nytimes-se.com, tricked out to look like the Times' official site - referred readers to 65 mostly progressive or liberal activist groups, including Code Pink, Greenpeace and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We can begin to make the news in this paper the news in every paper," the fake paper noted in a fake editorial.

Catherine Mathis, the spokeswoman at the real Times, said the paper is looking into the mockery. It's not the first trumped-up Times to hit the street. Spoofs of the paper have appeared at least three times in the past two decades.

MSNBC also was the victim of a complex hoax, meanwhile.

Earlier this week, Fox News broadcast an "exclusive" claiming that an unnamed official with Sen. John McCain's campaign had questioned Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's basic intelligence. For the record, Fox still stands by its story.

A pair of prankster entrepreneurs, however, contacted MSNBC claiming to be one "Martin Eisenstadt," the anonymous source. The network bit. Filmmakers Eitan Gorlin and Dan Mirvish were behind it all, even creating , video footage, biography, a false think tank Web site and blog for the nonexistent source. Their ultimate goal, however, was to publicize their ideas for a new TV show.

The Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones and the New Republic also fell for the Eisenstadt hoax, though it was left to MSNBC to retract the story and move on.

"What's the moral of the story here? Blogs get a lot of [expletive] for not vetting stories, fact checking, or even reporting. Well guess what? Mainstream news media don't do that either," noted David Hauslaib of Jossip, a gossip blog.