Fake Chamber Press Conference? Funny. Fake Reporters? Not So Much.

Michael Giberson

There seemed to be a tone of mild amusement in some of the press coverage of the fake Chamber of Commerce press release and staged press conference earlier this week.  Activist group Yes Men staged an elaborate hoax, with a fake press release, website, and press conference (but fake press conference held in the real National Press Club), with real reporters showing up and some apparently taken in by the stunt.

But it turns out that the hoax also included Yes Men members posing as reporters, and judging from this Greenwire story posted on the New York Times online site, at least some journalists are not finding that so funny.  One unnamed media analyst called it a “a stunt that compromises the credibility of journalists,” and Kelly McBride of the Poyter Institute said, “It makes the public dubious of real reporters.”

Actually, what compromised the credibility of journalists were published reports saying the Chamber of Commerce had changed its position on climate change and the Senate bill by John Kerry and Barbara Boxer.  Reuters and CNBC, among others, should be embarrassed.

And did I miss the newspaper story in which journalists lamented how the hoax compromised the credibility of lobbying groups in Washington, DC?

Ah … well, never mind.

5 thoughts on “Fake Chamber Press Conference? Funny. Fake Reporters? Not So Much.

  1. Hmmmm, If I recall from my journalism 101 class back at Medill a reporter does fact checking. Given hoaxes are both easier and more common now than ever I would think a quick check-up on sources the ‘reporters’ had never met or heard from before would have been in order. Isn’t hard. A call to the Chamber, a credentials check. Actually rather easy in this case.

    The stunt did not compromise the credibility of journalists. The fact that journalists fell for the stunt compromises the credibility of journalists. Not that I like what Yes Men did, but saying please stop fooling us seems a rather silly response and indicates how little is fact checked about anything anymore.

  2. A reporter for Mother Jones said she bought the fake press release for about 30 minutes, until a source tipped her to the stunt. She attended the press conference to see what developed. You’d think that reporters for more mainstream news outlets would be at least as talented.

    The funny thing is that the Chamber of Commerce was tipped off when one reporter mistaken went to the Chamber instead of the National Press Club. So apparently no reporter had called anyone at the Chamber before the press conference. But if the Chamber had not been tipped off by the reporters mistake, the Chamber rep would not have gone over to the NPC to challenge the hoax (and who knows how many more news stories would have been distributed?).

  3. What about the credibility of the Press Club? How do they verify requests to use the venue?
    Also I’m wondering if there’s a fraud charge in the offing. When does a hoax cross the line to become fraud?
    I thought the whole thing was pretty funny but as a journalist I also find it troubling.

  4. I understand that the National Press Club rents out rooms to more or less whomever is willing to pay – I assume within some limits. If the Yes Men signed a fraudulent contract with the NPC, then there could be a problem but I suspect they were smart enough not to do that. More likely a PR firm or agency of some sort served as conduit, reserving and paying for the room. I’m sure the NPC is used to dealing with PR firms handling arrangements for a press conference and thought nothing of it.

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