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Pranksters stage fake press conference

Pretending to be officials of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, activists announce the organization's endorsement of climate-change legislation, most of which the chamber has opposed.

October 20, 2009|Alexander C. Hart

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce fell victim to identity theft Monday when activist pranksters sent out a fake press release and staged a phony news conference to announce the organization's endorsement of climate-change legislation.

"There is only one sound way to do business," said prepared remarks included with the ersatz release. "That's to support a strong climate-change bill quickly so . . . President Obama can lead the entire business world in ensuring our long-term prosperity."

In reality, the chamber has opposed most climate-change legislation, expressing concerns that it was not sufficiently comprehensive and international and that it imposed too high a regulatory burden.

The briefing at the National Press Club -- complete with the chamber's logo on the lectern -- did not last long. Within a few minutes, a real chamber official, communications director Eric Wohlschlegel, walked in and announced: "This is a fraudulent press activity, and a stunt."

The handful of reporters present were left to stare as Wohlschlegel and the fake chamber officials accused each other of being impostors and demanded to see each other's business cards.

"These irresponsible tactics are a foolish distraction from the serious effort by our nation to reduce greenhouse gases," the chamber's vice president for communications, Thomas J. Collamore, said in a statement.

Reuters and CNBC briefly reported the fake news, but both ran corrections minutes later.

The event was staged by three groups, including the Yes Men -- notorious for posing as representatives of companies and announcing policies that correct what members perceive as social or environmental injustices.

In 2004, one of the group's members duped the BBC into believing he was a spokesman for Dow Chemical and allowing him to appear on a news program.

There he announced the company was taking full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, which occurred in 1984 in India and is one of the worst industrial accidents in history.

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alex.hart@latimes.com

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