November 12, 2008
The US defence department yesterday declared the end of the Iraq war and the immediate withdrawal of all troops, prompting an admission from Condoleezza Rice that the Bush administration knew all along that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, according to the New York Times.
|Fake New York Times: the work of pranksters The Yes Men|
On second thought, that introductory paragraph needs a little clarification. The New York Times proper didn’t report the end of the Iraq war. But a spoof 14-page “special edition” of the newspaper, circulating free on the streets of Manhattan today, did carry those items. It was printed in a form that was so high quality and technically accurate that many New Yorkers were nonplussed, backed up by an entire “New York Times” website that equally faithfully mimicked the original.
Dated July 4 2009, and boasting the front-page motto: “All the news we hope to print” in a twist on the daily’s famous phrase “All the news that’s fit to print”, the fake paper looks forward to the day the war ends, and envisages a chain of events that would be manna from heaven for American liberals.
In one story, ExxonMobil is taken into public ownership. In another, evangelical churches, the backbone of the Bush-supporting Christian right, open the doors of their mega-churches to Iraqi refugees.
The organisers of the high-quality and evidently expensive satire have cloaked themselves deliberately in a layer of mystery. They are connected at least to some degree to a group of activists calling themselves the Yes Men, a left-wing group that seeks to expose what it claims to be the “nastiness of powerful evildoers” through sophisticated pranks.
When the Guardian contacted the Yes Men, it received a swift response from a spokesman for the New York Times spoof going by the name of Wilfred Sassoon. He said that the Yes Men had helped with distribution, but that the paper itself had been produced by a number of anonymous writers from various New York dailies, including a couple from the New York Times itself.
“The idea behind it was to get people to exercise their imaginations,” “Sassoon” said. “We have just elected a new president, and we have for the first time in eight years a chance to see real change happen. But it won’t happen unless we keep the pressure up on politicians to do what they were elected to do.”
The project, he said, had taken about six months and had been funded by a large number of small donors.
A main target of the prank is clearly the New York Times itself. The spoof contains an editorial apologising for the paper’s “botched reporting” of the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and a column from Thomas Friedman in which he declares that he has repented of his earlier backing of the war and decided never again to write for this or any other paper.
The New York Times said it was “in the process of finding out more” about its imitation. That, at least, could be taken at face value.