Welcome to TimesPeople

What’s this?
Friday, November 14, 2008

N.Y. / Region

November 12, 2008, 9:39 am

Liberal Pranksters Hand Out Times Spoof

fakeA fake copy of The Times was being handed out to commuters at subway stations in the city this morning.

Updated, 11:20 p.m. | Sorry, folks, the paper isn’t free. And the Iraq war isn’t over, at least not yet.

In an elaborate hoax, pranksters distributed thousands of free copies of a spoof edition of The New York Times on Wednesday morning at busy subway stations around the city, including Grand Central Terminal, Washington and Union Squares, the 14th and 23rd Street stations along Eighth Avenue, and Pacific Street in Brooklyn, among others.

The spurious 14-page papers — with a headline “IRAQ WAR ENDS” — surprised commuters, many of whom took the free copies thinking they were legitimate.

The paper is dated July 4, 2009, and imagines a liberal utopia of national health care, a rebuilt economy, progressive taxation, a national oil fund to study climate change, and other goals of progressive politics.

The hoax was accompanied by a Web site that mimics the look of The Times’s real Web site. A page of the spoof site contained links to dozens of progressive organizations, which were also listed in the print edition.

(A headline in the fake business section declares: “Public Relations Industry Forecasts a Series of Massive Layoffs.” Uh, sure.)

The Associated Press reported that copies of the spoof paper were also handed out in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, and that the pranksters — who included a film promoter, three unnamed Times employees and Steven Lambert, an art professor — financed the paper with small online contributions and created the paper to urge President-elect Barack Obama to keep his campaign promises.

According to The A.P., software and Internet support were provided by the Yes Men, who were the subject of a 2004 documentary film.

On Wednesday, the Yes Men issued a statement about the prank, stating, in part:

In an elaborate operation six months in the planning, 1.2 million papers were printed at six different presses and driven to prearranged pickup locations, where thousands of volunteers stood ready to pass them out on the street.

Catherine J. Mathis, a Times spokeswoman, said: “This is obviously a fake issue of The Times. We are in the process of finding out more about it.”

Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a co-author of “The Trust,” a history of the family that controls The Times, said in a telephone interview that the paper should be flattered by the spoof.

“I would say if you’ve got one, hold on to it,” Mr. Jones, a former Times reporter, said of the fake issue. “It will probably be a collector’s item. I’m just glad someone thinks The New York Times print edition is worthy of an elaborate hoax. A Web spoof would have been infinitely easier. But creating a print newspaper and handing it out at subway stations? That takes a lot of effort.”

He added, “I consider this a gigantic compliment to The Times.”

There is a history of spoofs and parodies of The Times. Probably the best-known is one unveiled two months into the 1978 newspaper strike. A whole cast of characters took part in that parody, including the journalist Carl Bernstein, the author Christopher Cerf, the humorist Tony Hendra and the Paris Review editor George Plimpton.

And for April Fool’s Day in 1999, the British business executive Richard Branson printed 100,000 copies of a parody titled “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The New York Times.” A 27-year-old Princeton alumnus named Matthew Polly, operating a “guerrilla press” known as Hard Eight Publishing, edited that 32-page spoof of the newspaper.

From 1 to 25 of 136 Comments

1 2 3 ... 6
  1. 1. November 12, 2008 9:41 am Link

    That’s awesome, BUT, giving out a free version of the NY TIMES is a great idea. It’s been done by other papers in Asia to some great success.

    Also, when are you going to start having commenters writing small personal essays in the Sunday sections? That will be awesome.

    — DBC
  2. 2. November 12, 2008 9:47 am Link

    This sounds like the work of those merry pranksters at “The Onion” !

    — Steven C Mitchell
  3. 3. November 12, 2008 9:51 am Link

    If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the NY Times should consider this a tribute to quality of their paper.

    — GV
  4. 4. November 12, 2008 9:52 am Link

    This was simply an amazing job! Congrats to the creators. Now everybody, let’s make it real.

    — mike
  5. 5. November 12, 2008 10:07 am Link

    So sad this news can only be a spoof.

    — Kit
  6. 6. November 12, 2008 10:08 am Link

    You didn’t seriously post a link to your own website so that people who are reading this on your website can go and see what it looks like, did you?

    Very funny though, I wish i would have gotten one.

    — Reason
  7. 7. November 12, 2008 10:14 am Link

    Sounds like it’s time to reinforce your investigative journalism team. (And I wish other papers would do likewise, instead of culling them due to limited resources!)

    — Celeste Wiser MD
  8. 8. November 12, 2008 10:15 am Link

    I have no idea who did it, but it definitely wasn’t the Onion.

    And it doesn’t “imagine a liberal utopia” — just something better than the conservative dystopia of the last eight years. Let’s not forget the role the NYT played in banging the drums for war. :)

    — One of Them
  9. 9. November 12, 2008 10:17 am Link

    At the Union Square subway station on 15th street in
    the building known as Zeckendorff yesterday a NYT
    with the headline “OBAMA” as on the day our new President
    elect was announced was also being sold by a peddler.
    I think perhaps that too was a fake.

    — Skipper Broadway
  10. 10. November 12, 2008 10:25 am Link

    Was handed my copy at 23rd S at 6th Ave in Manhattan.

    — Roosevelt Island 360 (Eric)
  11. 11. November 12, 2008 10:28 am Link

    When I received one this morning I was surprised at first, and then I looked at the date: July 4, 2009 and knew it was a hoax.
    Ah well. It will be nice when it comes true and a very clever idea. Alot of times when you put an idea out in the open it has a chance to come true.

    — danielle
  12. 12. November 12, 2008 10:29 am Link

    Wow, in this day and age, a story about a spoof without the word “sue” anywhere in the article. It really is the dawn of a new era.

    And it shows that the Times deserves its reputation as “the paper of record.” Thank you!


    — Boldizar
  13. 13. November 12, 2008 10:29 am Link

    No, the papers with the big OBAMA headlines are copies of the edition put out the day after Election Day, which all sold out immediately. At least, I think they are.

    — BklynGirl
  14. 14. November 12, 2008 10:35 am Link

    I LOVED this paper - EVERY headline is what I hope to be reading soon!!!

    — Michael
  15. 15. November 12, 2008 10:39 am Link

    Here is a prediction: July 4, 2009 - Pranksters Sued for Willful Trademark and Copyright Violations

    — Logan
  16. 16. November 12, 2008 10:44 am Link

    There’s a video up now!


    — Tom Peters
  17. 17. November 12, 2008 10:45 am Link

    Other articles include:
    “Maximum Wage Law Succeeds”
    “Health Insurance Act Clears House”
    “Nationalized Oil to Fund Climate Control Efforts”
    “Court Indicts Bush on High Treason Charge”
    United Nations Unanimously Passes Weapons Ban”
    “All Public Universities to be Free”
    and my favorite, “Bicycle Lanes Inaugurated”

    The fake ads are really good too, including ones from Exxon, McDonald’s, and even a Dr. Z ad that you see on subways. Note…the only thing about Obama is an ad, no articles as this took a real long time to make.

    — Aj
  18. 18. November 12, 2008 10:49 am Link

    the prank aside, this will be a headline that all aemerica welcomes when it beocmes reality. the stepping back from A war footing is crucial to Americas reestablishment of its military, diplomatic and economic power in my opinion. so I look forward to the day when this fantasy becomes reality!

    — Nyrehd
  19. 19. November 12, 2008 10:51 am Link

    What a brilliant prank! It looks to me like those of those headlines are what the majority of Americans want. I’m all for it. Congrats whoever did it!

    — Nate
  20. 20. November 12, 2008 10:57 am Link

    Unfortunately, I think this was really in bad taste and not funny at all. It is one thing to do a spoof or a social commentary piece, but to put a headline saying the Iraq War has ended is just going too far in my opinion. People are dying over there - this is not something to “spoof.”

    — bw
  21. 21. November 12, 2008 10:59 am Link

    I received my copy in Union Square- there is an ad from DeBeers promising the creation and fitting of a prosthetic limb to an African child for every diamond sold between now and 2026. If only it were true!

    What a clever prank, bravo!

    — Ellie
  22. 22. November 12, 2008 11:00 am Link

    What is “progressive” about a “maximum wage law”? Was that an article about pro sports?

    — Sy Field
  23. 23. November 12, 2008 11:03 am Link

    Wow! A NYTimes without frank rich or maureen dowd! Journalistic heaven.

    — Sy Field
  24. 24. November 12, 2008 11:05 am Link

    And furthermore… how much money did they spend putting this out? It would have been better spent buying mosquito nets to help prevent malaria in Africa. Will it stimulate meaningful discussion about the issues or just a discussion about how clever it was? If the latter, then I can’t see the justification for it…

    — bw
  25. 25. November 12, 2008 11:09 am Link

    I realized something was up as soon as I grabbed one of these. There’s a full-page ad on the back for KBR http://www.kbr.com/

    — Juli512
1 2 3 ... 6

Add your comments...


Required, will not be published

Taking Questions
About the City’s After-School Programs
Taking Questions

This week, Lucy N. Friedman, the president of The After School Corporation, answered readers' questions.

Only in New York
Recruited by the Governor, Again

In his weekly podcast, Sam Roberts recalls 1975, when Gov. Hugh L. Carey asked Richard Ravitch for help in tough economic times. In 2008, Mr. Ravitch is being called upon again.

Welcome to City Room

City Room® is a news blog of live reporting, features and reader conversations about New York City [Highlights]. Reader comments are moderated [Details]. Send questions, suggestions or complaints by e-mail for prompt attention.

Browse Posts by Borough

City Room Beats

Government and Politics
Government and Politics

Covering the five boroughs, City Hall and legislation in Albany.

Crime & Public Safety
Crime and Public Safety

Following the police beat, City Room reports on arrests, police raids, fires and public emergencies.


From taxis to subways and commuter railroads, complete coverage of the transit system.


Coltrane in the classroom, teachers' strikes, Q&As about public school policy and more.


video submission
We Want Your Videos

We invite readers to submit video clips to City Room. Whether you have scenes from your neighborhood, or eyewitness video of breaking news, we really want to see it.

Featured Topic

Brooklyn brewing, bar hopping and more stories about the yeasty drink.

Recent Posts

November 14

Hearing on Street Vendors Gets Heated

The Bloomberg administration called for mandatory fingerprinting of those arrested for unlawful vending.

November 14

In Clinton Speculation, Echoes of Seward

President-elect Obama is said to be considering Senator Clinton for secretary of state, a choice that would have parallels to Abraham Lincoln’s selection of a rival.

November 14

Answers About the City’s After-School Programs, Part 3

Lucy N. Friedman, the president of the nonprofit After-School Corporation, answered readers’ questions this week about after-school programs in New York City.

November 14

S.I. Democrats Vie for McMahon’s Seat

A number of candidates have expressed interest in succeeding Councilman Michael E. McMahon, who was elected to Congress.

November 14

Stalin Banner’s Removal Draws More Questions

The New York Civil Liberties Union criticized Cooper Union’s decision to remove a banner of Stalin that had been hung as part of a one-woman art exhibition.

The Best of New York Today

Read Melena Ryzik's UrbanEye report each weekday to find out about New York's newest restaurants, cultural events, weekend activities, latest styles and more.


  • Subscribe to the RSS Feed
  • Subscribe to the Atom Feed