Friday, April 15, 2011

Columbia Journalism Review: Fisking the Yes Men’s fake General Electric press release (GE)

The CJR's The Audit blog's headline was "The Most Amazing Corporate Press Release in History" but that's debatable, see below.
From The Audit:

The last time the media fell for a Yes Men-affiliated hoax press release, it inspired a discussion about speed versus accuracy in journalism. This week the AP was duped by a fake announcement that GE had decided to donate its $3.2 billion “tax refund” to the U.S. government, but it has caused less introspection on the part of the press. In fact, the hoaxsters feel that kind of self-examination misses the point.

In order to achieve its goal of being the source of legitimate news reports, the fake release was draped in the trappings of authenticity: it was hosted on a website that looked like GE’s media site and had a very similar domain name. (GE’s news is online at; the release was online at The hoax announcement mimicked traditional corporate press release language and formatting, and included quotes from the company’s CEO, as well as the GE logo and standard GE boilerplate.

Yet for all of those efforts, the release screamed hoax from headline all the way down to the contact information at the bottom that directed reporters to one “Samuel Winnacker,” a person who has never appeared in a previous GE press release.

The GE release looked like a real announcement but was littered with so many red flags that it seems outrageous any journalist could begin to churn out an article without realizing they were being duped. I initially wondered if its creators hadn’t really thought things through. So I did the only thing a journalist trying to accurately report on a fake press release could do: I called the fake PR guy. (For the record, I also contacted AP business editor Hal Ritter to talk about the wire service’s procedure for verifying press releases. He referred me to AP’s PR guy.)...MORE
One of my favorites, I've posted it a couple times:
,,,And here's a story from twenty years ago this summer (I hope this is fair use, I've got a reason for putting out the abstract found on Proquest, this story was class act journalism). I made a mistake in the post below, it appears the the securities analyst making the buyout offer was hospitalized subsequent (not prior) to the call to DJ:

Herd on the Street: 'Garbitrage' Bulls Go Mad
By Brett Duval Fromson. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Jun. 30, 1987. pg. 1

One week ago, a troubled Cincinnati man made a bogus bid for control of Dayton Hudson Corp. Paul David Herrlinger caused the retailer's stock to shoot up $9 a share hours before a family lawyer announced that Mr. Herrlinger was more crazy than rich. Investors who bought Dayton Hudson stock on the preliminary news wire reports found that by the end of the day they had lost an estimated $15 million....