U.S. Chamber seeks hoax investigation

U.S. Chamber seeks hoax investigation

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Monday it would ask law enforcement officials to investigate a false press release sent out in the group’s name.

The business group condemned the hoax, which claimed that the Chamber had shifted its stance on climate change legislation and now viewed its former position as “irresponsible and foolish.”

ADVERTISEMENT
“We will be asking law enforcement authorities to investigate this event,” said Thomas J. Collamore, the Chamber’s senior vice president for communications and strategy.

“Public-relations hoaxes undermine the genuine effort to find solutions on the challenge of climate change,” he added.

The release was apparently fabricated by the activist group Yes Men, and had been reported initially by Reuters this morning.

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

The hoax comes after the Chamber had lost membership from some high-profile businesses in the wake of its opposition to climate change bills before Congress.

The business lobby appeared to shift its stance on Monday when a press release was sent out to several reporters claiming it had had an “about-face” on its position and would support legislation co-sponsored by Sens. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFor the sake of national security, Trump must honor the Iran deal Bernie Sanders’s 1960s worldview makes bad foreign policy DiCaprio: History will ‘vilify’ Trump for not fighting climate change MORE (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

But the release turned out to be part of a hoax that also included a fake press conference held to explain the Chamber’s apparent change of heart, held at the National Press Club on Monday morning.

The group responsible for the hoax identified itself as the Yes Men, activists who often use pranks against corporations and business groups to get their own message out through the press, according to the president of the National Press Club.

About 20 reporters attended the fake briefing, which included signs with the Chamber insignia. According to a report in Greenwire, Chamber spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel entered the Press Club room about 30 minutes into the briefing and said, “This is a fraudulent press conference and a stunt! If you have any questions, direct them to me!”

Donna Leinwand, president of the National Press Club, said two people who said they were representatives of the Council on Climate came into the club on Friday to book an event on Monday.

They then called Press Club staff on Monday morning to change their contact information and gave the real name and number of a Chamber spokesman, who later denied the business association was behind the press conference.

“That is when we discovered that things weren’t right,” Leinwand said.

Lienwand said one of the organizers told Press Club staff that she was a member of the Yes Men after being asked for a Chamber business card. The Press Club president also said the Yes Men have asked for a refund, saying the event did not go forward as planned. The club will not refund the money, Leinwand said.

There were clues throughout the press release and conference that both were fakes.

For example, the last name of the Chamber’s president and CEO, Tom Donohue, is spelled with an A in the press release.

The news release also identifies two Chamber aides, Erica Avidus and Hingo Sembro. “Avidus” is Latin for “greedy.” The release also links to a different website from the normal Web domain for the association.

The National Press Club’s schedule for Monday included an 11 a.m. news conference to be hosted by the U.S. Council on Climate, not the Chamber.

Nonetheless, several news organizations duly reported the press release and the Chamber’s apparent but untrue reversal. Reuters, the wire service, took down its original story.

ADVERTISEMENT
The hoax comes as the Chamber takes fire for its position on climate change legislation. Several companies, such as Apple and PG&E, have left the association because of its climate change stance.

In the fake press release, “Donahue” notes the members’ defections and says the association is “finally taking their cue” by changing their position to help President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Interior moves to delay Obama’s methane leak rule MORE in international climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, this coming December.

The Yes Men have often targeted businesses and media outlets for their lack of support for government action to reduce greenhouse gases. In September, the group published a fake 32-page edition of the New York Post saying climate change was the greatest threat to civilization and handed it out to city residents.