April 13, 2011, 5:16 PM — I don't want to blame the victims here, but I'll say this: Anyone who lost money in the stock market Wednesday because they thought the bogus news about General Electric voluntarily giving its tax refund back to the government was real shouldn't be allowed to trade without a guardian.
The news prank was conceived by a small team of guerrilla activists called US Uncut, which is associated with the prank duo Yes Men. The group rigged up a fake GE press release for Wednesday morning announcing that GE would return $3.2 billion to the federal government.
That's the amount cited in a New York Times article from last week about General Electric's magical ability to turn $5.1 billion in profits from U.S. operations into not only no taxes, but a $3.2 billion "tax benefit."
The press release got picked up and distributed by the Associated Press, which was forced to order a retraction and notify clients once GE said it had not issued the announcement.
The very "fact" that a U.S. corporation actually volunteered to give a tax refund back to the government should have raised immediate credibility flags.
But the motive offered by "GE" in the fake press release -- that the give-back would help the company “secure its position as a leader in corporate social responsibility” -- well, anyone who would swallow that patent nonsense has been living in an alternate universe.
Business Insider has a copy of the full bogus release text. US Uncut really lays it on thick in "quoting" the company's chief executive:
“We want the public to know that we’ve heard them, and that we know many Americans are going through tough times,” said GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. “GE will therefore give our 2010 tax refund back to the public and allow the public to decide how to spend it.”
Immelt acknowledged no wrongdoing. “All seven of our foreign tax havens are entirely legal,” Immelt noted. “But Americans have made it clear that they deplore laws that enable tax avoidance. While we owe it to our shareholders to use every legal loophole to maximize returns – we also owe something to the American people. We didn't write the laws that let us legally avoid paying taxes. Congress did. But we benefit from those laws, and now we'd like to share those benefits. We are proud to be giving something back to America, and we are proud to set an example for all industry to follow.”
Seriously, it reads like a bad Saturday Night Live skit. And the AP and some investors fell for it!