- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some deft hoaxsters almost convinced the news media that General Electric decided to donate its entire $3.2 billion tax refund to the U.S. Treasury.


“GE Responds to Public Outcry — Will Donate Entire $3.2 Billion Tax Refund to Help Offset Cuts and Save American Jobs,” read the convincing prank press release, which contained contact information, Web links, background information and a big “GE” logo in its proper shade of blue. The announcement arrived via email at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at many news organizations, including The Washington Times.

Alas. The Associated Press took the bait.

The wire service rushed to post a story based on the false information that remained online for 35 minutes. Although the release looked authentic, it contained some telltale bombs:

“All seven of our foreign tax havens are entirely legal,” the notice said in a pretend quote from GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

The AP story went public long enough to garner much gleeful notice from other news organizations — and warrant a retraction and a mea culpa of sorts an hour later.

“AP mistakenly reports on fake GE press release,” the news wire’s headline announced, explaining the details of its involvement.

“The AP did not follow its own standards in this case for verifying the authenticity of a news release,” said AP Business Editor Hal Ritter.

The Times did not post or publish a story based on the release or pick up the AP story.

The hoax itself? It was fabricated by US Uncut, a grass-roots activist group intent on protesting government service cutbacks and corporate tax policies. Their goal is to persuade GE, Verizon, Bank of America and other large corporations to pay more taxes.

“No cuts until corporate tax cheats pay up!” reads the public motto for their movement, which was inspired by a similar “anti-austerity” uprising in Britain called “UK Uncut.”

The group — which plans more than 80 rallies during the upcoming “Tax Day Weekend” — did not do their own handiwork, though.

They enlisted the help of the “Yes Men” to craft their fake announcement. The “loose-knit” group of 300 imposters most recently mocked Chevron’s attempt to “greenwash” its public relations campaign with feel-good environmental messages.

ln 2009, the group crafted a faux press release in the name of U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue; the release claimed that the business group had joined the ranks of climate change alarmists.

Meanwhile, the fake GE announcement was issued at a particularly sensitive time. The New York Times reported last month that the company’s 2010 profits topped $14 billion, yet it had paid no taxes. GE immediately protested the report and issued a point-by-point rebuttal.

There was some taint on the White House as well. Mr. Immelt of GE also is chairman of President Obamas Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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