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Media Duped by False Chamber of Commerce Release

(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Reuters, Fox Business Network, CNBC and other media outlets were tricked Monday into falsely reporting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the business lobbying group, had shifted its position and was now supporting the climate change legislation being debated in Congress.

An activist group known as the Yes Men – which recently put out a fake version of the New York Post proclaiming "WE'RE SCREWED" – sent a fake press release, complete with Chamber of Commerce logo, to reporters this morning. The release was quickly picked up by the Reuters wire service, which released a story proclaiming that the Chamber had dropped its opposition to the legislation and was calling for the inclusion of a carbon tax within it.

The story, which you can see here, included a quote from someone identified as a spokesman for the Chamber, Hingo Sembra. Someone calling himself Sembra held a press conference at the National Press Club today to trumpet the ostensible shift in policy. The event included "fake handouts on chamber letterhead, at least a couple of fake reporters, and a podium adorned with the chamber logo," the Washington Post reports. Several reporters -- as well as, presumably, the National Press club -- were reportedly unaware that the event was a hoax.

The press conference began normally but dissolved into a surreal scene when a legitimate Chamber official burst into the event, having heard about it from a reporter, and exclaimed that "Sembra" was a phony. The activist holding the press conference then called the Chamber official, Eric Wohlschlegel, a fake and demanded his business card.

The Yes Men's Andy Bichlbaum told MarketWatch that the stunt was designed to call attention to the Chamber's opposition to the climate bill. He said he welcomed legal action from the business group for using its logo because "it would bring even more attention to the issue."

Reuters eventually corrected its story amid assurances from the Chamber that it continues to oppose the House legislation that passed over the summer. A number of prominent businesses, among them Apple Inc., have left the Chamber in recent weeks in protest of its position on climate change legislation.

The group insists it backs strong reform. It said it was asking law enforcement to investigate Monday's stunt.

"These irresponsible tactics are a foolish distraction from the serious effort by our nation to reduce greenhouse gases," the Chamber said in a release. "The U.S. Chamber believes that strong climate legislation is compatible with the goals of improving our economy and creating jobs."

The White House has been trying to bypass the Chamber, the Post reports, by meeting directly with business leaders and questioning the group's position as the chief representative for big business.

Dow Jones notes that the name of the last name of the media contact listed in the fake press release, "Erica Avidus," is the Latin root for greed.

On their Web site, The Yes Men say their goal is "impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them."

"Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else," they write.