Not the hoax you’d think, which is that the Earth is doomed, doomed! to a fiery torment of heatwaves thanks to the release of CO2 in energy production and transportation, but a hoax by an environmental group that produced a fake press release from the US Chamber of Commerce. The USCC has had a number of its members resign over the group’s opposition to cap-and-trade legislation in Congress, and the hoax announcement stated that the USCC had reversed itself and now endorsed cap-and-trade. Layers of editors and fact-checkers at mainstream news outlets apparently couldn’t be bothered to check the official USCC website for confirmation:
In a dramatic shift, the Chamber of Commerce announced Monday that it is throwing its support behind climate change legislation making its way through the U.S. Senate.
Only it didn’t.
An e-mail press release announcing the change is a hoax, say Chamber officials.
Several meeting organizations fell for it.
A CNBC anchor interrupted herself mid-sentence Monday morning to announce that the network had “breaking news,” then cut away to reporter Hampton Pearson, who read from the fake press release.
Pearson quickly followed up with a second report saying the “so-called bulletin” was an “absolute hoax.” Smelling a rat, CNBC’s Larry Kudlow demanded to know whether the White House had been involved.
In a story posted Monday morning, Reuters declared: “The Chamber of Commerce said on Monday it will no longer opposes climate change legislation, but wants the bill to include a carbon tax.”
Kudlow’s wild accusation did not come completely out of left field, if you’ll pardon the pun. Politico reported earlier today that the White House has plotted to “neuter the Chamber,” and this certainly had that effect, even temporarily:
The White House and congressional Democrats are working to marginalize the Chamber of Commerce — the powerful business lobby opposed to many of President Barack Obama’s first-year priorities — by going around the group and dealing directly with the CEOs of major U.S. corporations.
Since June, senior White House officials have met directly with executives from more than 55 companies, including Chamber members Pfizer, Eastman Kodak and IBM.
“We prefer the approach — particularly in this climate — where the actual people who are on the front lines, running businesses, trying to create jobs, come and advise us on policy,” senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told POLITICO in a not-so-subtle effort to portray the Chamber as out of touch with business reality.
Chamber officials say the White House is scapegoating the Chamber and other trade associations as a way of dividing the business community, a move that could help the administration made headway on health care reform, climate change legislation and regulatory reform.
I doubt that anyone in the White House would be foolish enough to participate in a hoax to do it, though. Their strategy appears effective enough as it is. They have already won some significant defections from major businesses, which is why the USCC has seen them literally defect in the last few weeks. That’s an entirely legitimate strategy, even if it is in service to a very bad idea. Even this White House wouldn’t make that kind of amateurish mistake.
That can’t be said for news outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, CNBC, and especially Reuters, who originally reported on it. That kind of an about-face by the USCC should have set warning bells ringing in newsrooms. What was the likelihood of the USCC not only backing cap-and-trade but also demanding a new carbon tax on top of it? And how long would it have taken for someone to look at the USCC website to confirm the information? Even the slowest of connections would take no longer than a minute for the page to load – or to notice the difference in the URLs.
At the conference this weekend, one reporter noted that bloggers rarely pick up a phone to verify information, a criticism with more than a little truth to it. Unfortunately, that appears to apply to reporters as well.