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20 years

Friday, April 15, 2011

Associated Press and Reuters Fooled by “Yes Men” Again – Who Gets Hurt and How Much?

The activist group called the “Yes Men” has struck again –they’ve sent another phony press release, got it published and in more than one reputable place. They were able to fool established news agencies like Reuters, AP and Dow Jones. This latest incident involved a fake press release on phony General Electric letterhead announcing a tax refund donation to the U.S. federal government of $3.2 billion. The facts are that GE received no such refund and made no such donation. (see Reuters article) It would seem GE’s reputation is going to take a hit. And, now that the hoax was revealed as such, new reputational targets are added – the news agencies that let this one get through their truth filter.

So, that makes several targets hit and damaged – how much damage was done and what can they do about it?

Let’s start with GE. This is a very consumer-facing company even if much of its enormous enterprise serves the b-to-b markets. So, any suggestion that GE hasn’t paid its share of taxes is going to ding its public image. In this case, we believe that even after it is established that GE did not receive the tax refund, the damage is already done. In our estimation, the way you emerge from a charge like this is to listen, communicate the truth and provide context.

The news agencies shouldn’t let this be sorted out without being involved either. How did this get past them? How will they ensure that this doesn’t happen again? Why should readers have confidence that their fact checkers are competent or even on the job at all?

“Like any modern day issues management, this is where online listening plays a critically important role in determining your response” says Mark Bennett, Director at WCG, a leader in Public Relations and Online Communications.

We agree – listen to your constituents and be ready to engage.

What do you think? How much damage has been done to GE, AP, and Dow Jones? How should they respond? What would you tell them if you were their PR counsel?

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