Fake New York Times Prank: Unfunny Farce or Innovative Inspirational Tool?

On Wednesday, liberal pranksters distributed 1.2 million copies of a fake New York Times dated July 4, 2009, in which the Iraq war ends and universal health care is happening. Was it effective or just an undercooked attempt at political humor?

Yesterday morning, notorious liberal pranksters The Yes Men took spoofing to new heights by distributing 1.2 million fake issues of the New York Times dated July 4, 2009. Papers with the large bold headline "Iraq War Ends" were distributed at major New York gathering places like Union Square and Penn Station.

The paper and its well-designed spoof Web site highlight news stories that show the political left’s agenda realized. In this alternate universe, a universal health care bill is being passed by Congress, the Iraq War is coming to a close, and public universities are now free. The Web site also features spoof ads, including one for GM touting its electric car with the tagline "Because we have to."

The most impressive thing about the spoof is that it took six months of planning to make it happen, according to a blog post by the real New York Times. A full Web site had to be made, editorial content was written and edited in the Times’ style, people had to be recruited to hand out papers and money had to be raised to fund the printing.

What they did mimics the guerilla-marketing tactics we discussed in our November issue. But if the point of guerilla marketing is to use a small amount of resources to get lots of free exposure for their product, did this prank, with its minimal national press, really do anything to push their cause forward?

There are arguably two ways to look at it. One take is to call this act an unrealistic, unfunny farce that is too similar to what The Onion and humor magazines strive for to be effective. People have seen similar satire before and this could just be used as ammunition for the political right to say the left is crazily out-of-touch with reality.

On the opposite end, people could view this as an innovative inspirational technique that shows the public a composite picture of a utopia that could be formed if only they willed themselves to do it. Try to think of the last time you were reading fake news stories from a paper in your hands that essentially called you to action. Nothing comes, does it?

Sure, the utopia fits President-Elect Obama’s speeches and policies much more than Senator John McCain’s, but you certainly don’t see former McCain supporters working so hard to show America what a McCain-led utopia would have looked like.

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1 Comments

  • Lynette Chiang

    I saw this in three different places - a doctor's waiting room, a yoga studio changing room, and a cafe. The overwhelming response by everyone who picked it up was, in order 1) furrowed eyebrows 2) 'that's weird' 3) 'that's really weird' 4) put it down without reading it.
    I wondered aloud if it was the Times in an unusually upbeat moment, perhaps giddy and even a bit cocky from the sales of their Nov 5 reprint immediately prior.
    Some thought it extremely insensitive to those who have loved ones in Iraq. Hearts would have stopped in mouths, only to sink back in disappointment.
    Thus, as a prank it was adequately executed, and rather like the kinds of things we used to come up with in Advertising Idea Generation 101. But imagine if it had left people excited rather than confused, ambivalent or wistful.
    Put a pair of legs on the endeavor, and you'd can imagine a non-cheesy 'good news' daily, published as an antidote to the mainstream press - every single day.