UPDATE: Scroll down for video of the Chamber of Commerce hoax pulled off by The Yes Men.
Political performance artists, The Yes Men, have taken credit for today's prank, in which they posed as Chamber of Commerce officials pushing for comprehensive climate change legislation. In a statement from the group offered hours after a fake press conference was held at the National Press Club and a fake press release was sent out under the Chamber's name, The Yes Men said the following:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a dramatic announcement at the National Press Club today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reversed its position on climate change policy, and promised to immediately cease lobbying against the Kerry-Boxer bill.
Within minutes of the announcement, it was revealed that the "Chamber spokesperson" was an impostor, and the press conference an elaborate hoax designed by activists to draw attention to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's fight against public interest on climate change. At the close of the news conference, real Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Eric Wohlschlegel barged into the room visibly rattled, and declared the event a fraud.
The stunt was pulled off by the Yes Men, the activists best known for posing as corporate executives in order to reveal how corporate greed negatively influences public policy. Recently, the Yes Men have focused their attention on the urgent need for action on climate change. Today they sought to reveal--and repeal--relentless corporate lobbying of elected officials aimed at derailing domestic climate legislation and a much-needed global climate accord.
At the end of [fake U.S. Chamber "representative" "Hingo Sembra"]'s remarks, Eric Wohlschlegel confronted Bichlbaum. In the stand-off, both accused the other of being a fraud and disrupting business as usual. The standoff ended with Wohlschlegel dispensing his business card to reporters in the room, and attempting to field a number of pointed questions about the Chamber's real stance on climate legislation currently in Congress, which the real Chamber opposes.
The video of the National Press Club affair was passed along to the Huffington Post late Monday afternoon. It is a must watch.
The whole prank left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce frantically trying to track down the perpetrators and threatening to push for a criminal investigation. An unamused statement from senior Vice President for Communications and Strategy Thomas J. Collamore read as follows:
"Public relations hoaxes undermine the genuine effort to find solutions on the challenge of climate change.
"These irresponsible tactics are a foolish distraction from the serious effort by our nation to reduce greenhouse gases. The U.S. Chamber believes that strong climate legislation is compatible with the goals of improving our economy and creating jobs. We continuously seek opportunities to engage in a constructive dialogue to achieve these goals.
"We will be asking law enforcement authorities to investigate this event. Beyond that, the Chamber will simply continue to focus on a positive vision for getting people back to work and growing our economy."
* * * * *
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the victim of an massive hoax on Monday in which a group pretending to be the business lobby hosted a fake news conference at the National Press Club announcing a "dramatic" shift in its position on climate change.
The guilty party remains, as of mid-day, undisclosed. But their ruse was elaborate enough to catch several reporters (and apparently the press club itself) off guard. The first inklings that something fishy was going on came at roughly 11:15 am when a email press release was sent out under the Chamber's logo and name announcing that the organization was now "throwing its weight behind strong climate legislation." The name of the Chamber's president was misspelled, and a quick follow-up call to the actual group revealed that no such policy shift had occurred.
Before a correction could be issued, Reuters ran with the story, which was subsequently carried on various news outlet websites as well as covered by business television stations like CNBC.
It turns out, that an email press release was just one component of the hoax. In addition, the fake group managed to secure space at the prestigious National Press Club to host a "press conference" announcing its change in climate change position, according to the real Chamber. Several reporters were in attendance, I'm told, unaware that this was all a big joke.
The event would have gone off without a hitch except for the fact that an actual Chamber spokesman was tipped off to the shenanigans and moved quickly to break it up. A reporter interested in covering what she thought was a real event inadvertently showed up at the Chamber's office on H Street instead of the press club.
"She came here to the Chamber looking for a news conference," explained Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the real Chamber. "She said she got it wrong that she was going to a Chamber press conference at the press club."
"I said, what press conference are you talking about?" he added. "So I went with over her to check it out and immediately tried to break it up."
A source with indirect knowledge of what transpired at the press club said there was video taken from the event showing Wohlschlegel frantically attempting to alert reporters that they were covering a hoax. The Huffington Post, naturally, is trying to obtain said video.
Still questions remain. Who exactly is behind the staged event? And how could the press club allow this to occur? Talking Points Memo suggests that Avaaz, an international activist group, was behind the prank.
A call to the press club was not immediately returned.
UPDATE: A source close to the infamous pranksters, The Yes Men, claims that the group was behind today's hoax and will be sending along a press release and video shortly. Stay tuned!
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