Feature

The phony GE tax apology: Did it accomplish anything?

Pranksters posing as General Electric put out a fake press release advertising corporate responsibility— and some news outlets bought it

A group called US Uncut has claimed responsibility for a fake GE press release that said the company would pay back its $3.2 billion federal tax refund out of a commitment to "social responsibility." GE has been under the gun since a March New York Times story revealed that the company, one of the nation's largest, employs an in-house team of accountants and lobbyists to avoid paying federal taxes. At least one major media outlet fell for the hoax — the Associated Press briefly ran it as a story before yanking it. (GE's stock, meanwhile, fell by 0.6 percent before righting itself when the truth came out Wednesday.) Did this stunt really achieve anything?

It was a glimpse of an ideal world: "This action showed another way the world could work," says US Uncut spokesperson Carl Gibson. People were able to believe, if only briefly, that the nation's "biggest corporate tax dodger had a change of heart and actually did the right thing." Maybe now more Americans will recognize that we need to "change the laws that allow corporate tax avoidance in the first place." "US Uncut + the Yes Lab: GE returns billions to public...NOT"

It illustrated a bias against corporate America: When I first read about this hoax, says Conrad de Aenlle at Moneywatch, I hoped it was meant to defend GE's "legitimate and understandable" accounting moves. The corporate tax burden in the U.S. is higher "than in any other country on Earth." How sad this turned out to be just another knee-jerk attack on business. Luckily for US Uncut, "there's no tax on smugness emissions." "GE hoax press release: Corporate America is still the bad guy"

It just made news outlets look dumb: "Biggest victim of today's hoax?" says Giovanni Rodriguez at Forbes. "Not sure it's GE." The AP and other outlets who "ran with the fake story" looked considerably worse. Sure, news cycles can force bad decisions," but in this case, "there were some obvious clues about the release's authenticity." A big-time organization like the Associated Press should have known to be suspicious. "Big media falls for GE news hoax"

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