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Today's Top News
US Chamber of Commerce Falls Victim to 'Fraud' over Climate Hoax
Environmental activists held spoof press conference announcing U-turn in the organisation's stance on climate legislation
It looked – at first – eerily like a routine news event. A man in a nondescript dark suit standing at a podium in one of the smaller meeting rooms on the 13th floor of the National Press Club. But then suddenly it wasn't.
"There is only one way to do business and that is to pass a climate bill quickly so this December President Obama can go to Copenhagen and negotiate with a strong position," said the speaker – who said he represented the US Chamber of Commerce.
The statement represented a complete repudiation of the Chamber's earlier opposition to climate change legislation. The hard line had triggered walk-outs from Apple and a handful of other high-profile companies in the past few weeks. The companies are trying to press the business organisation to support the bill by the senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer that is to be debated by the Senate next week.
Or maybe not. Barely 20 minutes into the Q&A section of the press conference, an agitated spokesman for the Chamber burst into the room, screaming that the event was a hoax.
In today's instant news era, that wasn't quite soon enough. Several green organisations tweeted or blogged on the about-face. Reuters news agency put out a straight news story about the Chamber's apparent U-turn, and the Washington Post and New York Times put the story on their news sites (both later removed the stories from their websites). CNBC actually sought – and got – comment from analysts. It also broke its programming to have a reporter read out the fake press release.
The spoof got under way with a press release inviting journalists to a morning news conference. Most reporters overlooked the misspelling of the Chamber president's name.
The phony spokesman said the Chamber was not happy with the bill before the Senate and would push for a carbon tax – not the greenest of positions. But he added: "If cap and trade is all we can get we have to take it so at least we can have something to put in President Obama's hands when he goes to Copenhagen."
He went out even further on a limb when he called clean coal "a hoax", saying the money would be better spent on solar energy research. "Clean technology has not only not been proven. It basically doesn't exist," he said.
It was about that time, the real Chamber spokesman burst into the room – and had a mild shoving match at the podium. "What happened today was a fraud and I believe illegal," Eric Wohlschlegel said. The spokesman said he learned of the hoax when a reporter came to the Chamber office looking for the press conference. Wohlschlegel said he immediately leaped into a taxi.
The spoof appears to be the work of the Avaaz Action Factory, which put a post on its website promising to "make this the worst Monday ever for the anti-climate PR machine at the US chamber of commerce".
And while a number of reporters still pressed Wohlschlegel for signs of a shift in the Chamber's position, he soon set them straight. The Chamber was as opposed to climate change legislation as ever.