Many people distrust information included in articles of The New York Times due to the newspaper's obviously liberal slant, but pranksters this week went a step further and distributed 10,000 copies of a false edition of the paper, which stated on its front page that Hillary Clinton had quit this year's presidential contest.
An article written by Madison Margolin for The Village Voice noted that the copies also “proclaimed that Congress would debate U.S. aid to Israel” and “were handed out across Manhattan -- at Penn Station, Grand Central, Times Square -- as well as at the Barclays Center.”
“One story announced that Clinton, having dropped her presidential campaign, had been appointed director of the Human Rights for All Women Foundation, a 'new nonprofit organization' headquartered in Ramallah, New York, Nairobi and Charleston,” Margolin reported.
Touted as "all the news that didn't print," the fake “newspaper of record" espoused a "new editorial policy" regarding coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The issue included a section entitled "Rethinking our 2015 Coverage on Israel-Palestine -- A supplement," which suggested the Times' coverage of the conflict up to that point had been pro-Israel, and the pranksters set out to change that.
Another article indicated that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would host a conference on Islamophobia at Brooklyn College following his trip to Israel. The "Corrections" section listed 150 names of Palestinians killed by the Israeli Defense Forces.
The false edition went so far as to include fake ads, one for Shalom Cement ("We only build the finest separation walls. ... No walls say 'apartheid' like Shalom Cement") and another for TimeUp luxury watches ("The moment is now to end U.S. military aid to Israel").
Also, Margolin noted that the ersatz edition even included “a bogus weather forecast, claiming the day would be 'windy, cloudy, high 22'” when the actual high was 54 degrees.
“So far, no one has claimed responsibility, but the activist prank group the Yes Men are among the leading suspects,” she stated. In 2008, that organization distributed another fake edition of the Times with such front-page headlines as "Iraq War Ends" and "Nation Sets its Sights on Building a Sane Economy."
The most recent prank came just weeks after the New York State Senate passed legislation that effectively bans the state from doing business with companies that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn, said BDS promotes "anti-Semitic ideology," equating it to other forms of bigotry and injustice.
“New York taxpayers need to be protected from becoming unwitting supporters of those who are trying to undermine our greatest ally, Israel, and other critical allies,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement. “We are demonstrating that New York will continue to stand with our international partners and protect our shared interests.”
In a statement regarding the most recent prank, a Times spokeswoman said:
We're extremely protective of our brand and other intellectual property and object to this group (or any group's) attempt to cloak their political views under the banner of The New York Times.
We believe strongly that those advocating for political positions are best served by speaking openly in their own voice.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, supported the Times' objection: "The diatribe, published anonymously, conveys false facts and themes consistent with anti-Israel advocates and supporters” of the BDS movement.
Greenblatt added: "New Yorkers are sophisticated enough to see that this 'news' was not fit to print."
However, the prank sparked a lively debate on the New York City Reddit page, Margolin asserted.
“Users discussed how Americans' tax dollars actually work to their opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” she noted. "This is really convoluted satire/critique," one user wrote.
In another conversation, one poster wrote: "I walked by a chick at 42nd and Broadway handing out newspapers. I saw her and thought 'she is way too hot to be passing out newspaper.' Yep [all sic]." To which another person replied: "After realizing it was a parody, I tried asking her what organization she was with. Her response? 'I don't work for anyone.'"
Shahar Azani, Northeast director of StandWithUs, an Israeli education organization, called the prank "unwarranted garbage," noting that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel is founded on shared values and strategic interests.
“Spreading lies and demonizing Israel will not bring peace to both parties,” he said, insisting that could be realized only through “direct dialogue and education.”
The Hillary Clinton campaign staff has not responded to or even acknowledged the prank. We can only wonder what would happen if the fake newspaper edition had spread false information regarding GOP front-runner Donald Trump.