October 19th, 2009
09:49 PM ET

Hoax derides climate stance of U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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Tom Cohen

Strange but not true. A purported statement Monday that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had dropped its long-standing opposition to climate change legislation was revealed to be a hoax when a real Chamber official disrupted a news conference and called a fake Chamber official a fraud.

The fake news release and equally fake news conference at the National Press Club duped some news organizations into reporting the unlikely policy shift by one of the strongest opponents of energy bills before Congress.

While erroneous news reports were quickly corrected, the hoax succeeded in sowing confusion and forcing the Chamber of Commerce to reaffirm its rejection of climate change proposals being pushed by President Barack Obama and most Democrats.

Some Chamber members, including Apple and Pacific Gas & Electric, already have quit the business advocacy group over its opposition to energy reforms intended to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

A statement issued by ThomsonReuters, which reported the fake news release and then quickly corrected it as a hoax, said the new organization "has an obligation to its clients to publish news and information that could move financial markets, and this story had the potential to do that."

"Once we had confirmed the release was a hoax, we immediately issued a correction, and in keeping with Reuters policy, the story was subsequently withdrawn and an advisory sent to readers," the statement said.

The hoax provided a rare unscripted moment at the National Press Club when a real Chamber of Commerce spokesman disrupted the fake news conference in the Club's John Peter Zenger Room being conducted by a group called the Yes Men.

"These irresponsible tactics are a foolish distraction from the serious effort by our nation to reduce greenhouse gases," said a statement issued later Monday by Thomas J. Collamore, the Chamber's senior vice president for communications and strategy.

Collamore's statement said the Chamber would seek a police investigation of the hoax.

A Yes Men representative who gave his name as Andy Bichlbaum - one of the pseudonyms the group uses for stunts - told CNN it was the Chamber of Commerce that was defrauding the country by advocating what he called backward policies.

"The only irresponsibility and distraction here is the Chamber's
doublespeak," Bichlbaum said. "They're pretending to support the idea of legislation while opposing actual proposed legislation."

According to Bichlbaum, he was answering questions from reporters who thought he was a Chamber of Commerce spokesman when Eric Wohlschlegel, the chamber's executive director of communications, burst into the room and accused him of being a fraud.

"It was two well-dressed men in suits, gesticulating toward each other," Bichlbaum said.

Donna Leiwand, the Press Club president, noted the fake news conference event ended shortly after it began, and that the erroneous news reports were based on the false news release, rather than the Press Club event. "We don't feel particularly punked," Leiwand told CNN.
Some environmental groups also questioned the value of the Yes Men stunt in the climate change debate.

"The matter is too serious and merits thoughtful, sustained, collective
effort, not divisive argument," said Fred Boltz, a senior vice president for Conservation International who heads the group's climate change program. "Those progressive, public-minded companies that left the Chamber of Commerce made the most meaningful contribution to stimulating thoughtful reflection and change within this important community."

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