AP falls for Internet hoax, reports GE would "repay" tax refund

How many of you received the official-looking e-mail, supposedly from General Electric, that claimed remorse for its big $3.2 billion tax refund and pledged to donate it to the US Treasury?  I did, which I thought was a little odd, since the notion that GE got the refund in the first place came from bad reporting at the New York Times rather than reality.  Curious, I clicked on the link in the press release and discovered that the website was non-functional.  I then promptly forgot about it, at least until the AP reported it as fact:

I screen-capped it so we have the record when the AP sends it down the memory hole — which they will do shortly after Business Insider blew the whistle on this:

The AP just fell for a hoax press release, which claimed that GE would repay the government the $3.8 billion tax loss carryforward it received. The hoax was designed to correspond with last month’s controversy originated by the New York Times about how GE, despite its huge profits, was paying no taxes.

The 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 was posted at a site called http://www.genewscenters.com/.

It’s a pretty sophisticated fake, since genewscenters.com is just one letter off from genewscenter.com, where GE actually hosts its news.

It wasn’t sophisticated enough to keep the site running properly, so I’m still less than impressed.  The AP did acknowledge a little while later that they’d been snookered, but the explanation is, well, lacking:

The fake release, which was emailed to the AP, included a GE logo and a link to a website designed to look like GE’s website. The AP published a 90-word story based on the release. Thirty-five minutes later, AP withdrew the story and advised its customers that the story was a hoax.

So the reporter and his/her editor basically repackaged a supposed press release with no real effort to check its veracity.  Remember that the $3.2 billion refund itself was fictional, and even apart from that, a multibillion-dollar donation to the Treasury would at least be unusual.  How many times have publicly-held corporations deliberately overpaid taxes by billions of dollars?  Wouldn’t that be a claim that requires a little more strenuous fact-checking, maybe by picking up a phone and calling someone at GE to verify?

By the way, the AP story was still live on Yahoo’s newswire feed as of 13:20, with no note of correction.