Three weeks after falling for an obvious prank, right-wing cable news outlet Newsmax was embarrassingly duped by the same trick when they interviewed someone they believed was former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—who promptly called the conservative network “a much bigger threat to America than the hijackers of 9/11.”
Following the fall of Kabul and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, cable news has been flooded with commentary from the original architects of the War on Terror. In that same vein, on August 21, Newsmax sought out an interview with Wolfowitz to discuss the end of the war in Afghanistan, only to get in touch with a group of pranksters known as The Yes Men.
As first reported by Mediaite, according to the pranksters, Newsmax anchor Tom Basile and his producers ended up chatting online with Yes Men member Andy Bichlbaum, whose original plan was to pose as a “colleague” of Wolfowitz’s from the American Enterprise Institute. (Wolfowitz is a senior fellow at the think tank.)
Citing “internet trouble” as the reason the ex-Bush administration official supposedly couldn’t take part in the interview, Bichlbaum attempted to convince Basile’s team to interview him as Wolfowitz’s fake colleague instead. The producers, however, declined that offer and “suggested just patching Wolfowitz through on the phone.” What resulted was an 11-minute on-air interview with Basile, with Bichlbaum impersonating Wolfowitz.
Basile, who claims he knows Wolfowitz personally, never noticed or acknowledged that Bichlbaum’s voice didn’t sound anything like his supposed friend’s. On top of that, the fake Wolfowitz was purposely pushing a new “conservative angle,” as Bichlbaum later described it, throughout the entire conversation.
Claiming that Americans had “nothing else to be proud of” due to the end of the 20-year-war, the Wolfowitz impersonator then suggested that the next time the United States thinks of spending $2 trillion on fighting overseas it instead invests that money into domestic infrastructure and health care. Despite these positions being completely contradictory to Wolfowitz’s actual views, Basile ate it all up and never caught on that he was speaking to a phony.
Fast forward three weeks and Newsmax decided to once again call up “Wolfowitz,” this time to talk about the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Even though The Yes Men had immediately publicized their Aug. 21 prank after it occurred, and the real Wolfowitz has recently granted interviews to other networks, the network apparently contacted the group to patch in Wolfowitz to take part in their special coverage.
“This time we were determined to stop them from calling again,” the pranksters wrote on their website shortly after the Saturday interview.
Wasting no time once he was on air, Bichlbaum warned the network’s viewers that there’s a “different kind of terrorism, much worse than 9/11,” adding that the “new master terrorists” make the 9/11 hijackers look like “rank amateurs.”
Bichlbaum then called for the Newsmax panel—which included Basile—“to make an ‘X’ over your head with your hands,” resulting in at least one panelist actually doing so.
“Great. You’re under arrest. As a friend of this station I’ve got to tell you, Newsmax is a much bigger threat to America than the hijackers of 9/11,” the imposter Wolfowitz said, prompting the hosts to cut the interview short.
“Thank you for your service—what was that?!” Basile exclaimed after they dropped the prankster, seemingly still unaware that “Wolfowitz” wasn’t the real deal.
Fellow anchors Heather Childers and Rob Schmitt, meanwhile, lamented over his “embarrassing” remarks, chastising him for sowing division on a day that was about “unity and bringing people together.” Childers also grumbled that the “former Deputy Secretary of Defense” didn’t want to “share some real thought” with the panel.
“He was at the Pentagon that day and you would think that he wouldn’t choose this moment to be, frankly, hateful and intolerant,” Basile added.
Childers would also declare that “Wolfowitz” had “dishonored” the memory of late Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with his comments while Schmitt claimed the former Bush administration official was just looking for a “viral moment” he’s “probably not very important anymore.”
A day after being duped for the second time by The Yes Men, Newsmax provided the following statement to The Daily Beast over the prank.
“While we were covering special 9/11 remembrances and honoring those who had lost their lives, including heroic police officers and firefighters, horribly there were others whose only goal is to lie, deceive, and destroy,” the network said. “They dishonored the memories of true heroes.”