At least two major news organizations yesterday fell for a bogus General Electric Co. e-mailed news release that proclaimed GE would repay a $3.2 billion tax refund to the Treasury Department, notes Grumpy Editor.
Phony news releases pop up periodically and the rush to print or broadcast information, without confirmation in a 24/7 news cycle, often results in red faces on news staffs.
Associated Press and Dow Jones, reporting the hoax as fact, soon pulled the story. With AP, it took 35 minutes to retract its 90-word piece.
In analyzing a copy of the fake, yet official-looking news release, Grumpy Editor sees how editors could be gullible. It carries the GE logo at the top along with the company’s “imagination at work” line, similar to what appears on GE’s Web site.
But Grumpy Editor notices several clues that should have raised eyebrows.
1 --- Nowhere in the six-paragraph news release is the issuer identified by its full corporate name, General Electric Co. From the headline at the top to the contact at the bottom, it’s simply GE all the way.
2 --- Press contact is listed as being in the 615 area code. That happens to be the area code in Tennessee that covers Nashville and surrounding areas, not Fairfield, Conn., the dateline on the news release.
3 --- Fairfield, Conn. area code is 203.
4 --- The release’s press contact carries the title, GE Corporate, Assistant Director. Three key GE corporate contacts do not show such a title on the company’s Web site.
“GE's tax avoidance is unpatriotic, it's undemocratic, it's unfair," says a spokesman for US Uncut, an activist group said to be behind the prank. "It might be legal, but that's only because GE has used its money and lobbying influence to buy the loopholes they're now taking advantage of."
US Uncut describes itself as a grassroots movement organized through social media, that “connects corporate tax cheating to cuts in valuable public services.”