April 13, 2011 – If the notion that General Electric (GE) would “gift” $3.2 billion to the U.S. Treasury seems too unbelievable to be true, that’s because it is. But that didn’t stop the Associated Press (AP) and USA Today from reporting this morning that GE “will repay its entire $3.2 billion tax refund to the US Treasury on April 18”—Tax Day.
Turns out that the “news” came courtesy of a fake press release (titled “GE Responds to Public Outcry – Will Donate Entire $3.2 Billion Tax Refund to Help Offset Cuts and Save American Jobs”), which was created by the Yes Men and fellow advocacy group US Uncut, and posted on a fake GE Web site at genewscenters.com. The hoax press release followed in the wake of a recent New York Times article by David Kocieniewski, which reported that GE will not only pay no income tax on $5.1 billion in U.S. profits, but in fact “claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.”
In the release GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt is quoted as having said: “We want the public to know that we’ve heard them, and that we know many Americans are going through tough times…. GE will therefore give our 2010 tax refund back to the public and allow the public to decide how to spend it.”
USA Today responded by removing the story from its Web site and running another story noting how the AP fell for the prank. Meanwhile, the AP owned up to its mistake. “The AP did not follow its own standards … for verifying the authenticity of a news release,” said Business Editor Hal Ritter about the error.