(AFP) – Apr 13, 2011
NEW YORK — An activist group took credit for putting out a fake press release claiming General Electric had decided to donate a purported $3.2 billion tax refund to the US Treasury.
The Associated Press news agency was among the media outlets duped by the elaborate stunt put together by a group called US Uncut with the help of another known as the Yes Men.
The hoax played on recent criticism of GE over reports that it did not pay US income takes last year despite raking billions of dollars in net profit.
"The USA has some terrible laws that are allowing corporations to pay no taxes while US citizens get all of their services stripped away," Mike Bonanno, a member of the Yes Men, said in an email to AFP.
"It's a crime, and we need to change the laws in this country to make that not happen again," said Bonanno, whose Yes Men were also behind a hoax last year involving oil company Chevron that duped a number of news outlets.
Wednesday's fake press release was sent in an email that reproduced the GE logo and company slogan "GE: Imagination at Work" and also included a link to a website that resembled GE's real corporate communications site.
The press release claimed that GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt, in response to a "public outcry," had decided to donate the $3.2 billion tax refund to the government to "help offset cuts and save American jobs."
A real GE spokeswoman, Ann Eisele, identified the press release as a "hoax" but not before it was picked up by a number of reputable news organizations.
"We did not receive a refund," Eisele said.
The AP wrote a brief story based on the press release before withdrawing it about half-an-hour later.
AP business editor Hal Ritter said in an AP story that the news agency "did not follow its own standards in this case for verifying the authenticity of a news release."
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