When commuters headed to work on Wednesday morning, some of them heard people shouting “Special Edition!” and passing out free copies of what appeared to be The Washington Post throughout downtown D.C.
At the top of the fold, the headline proclaims, “UNPRESIDENTED: Trump hastily departs White House, ending crisis.” Other articles on the front page discuss the global celebrations as Trump leaves office, how women took the lead in ousting the president, and how federal government workers “stepped up to shut down Trump.” The date of the newspaper? May 1, 2019.
The newspaper didn’t come from the Post at all. Indeed, it’s a painstakingly formatted recreation of the newspaper’s style, with fully written articles that function as wish fulfillment for some of the president’s opponents. It even has a digital edition and a Vimeo account in the name of the Washington Post. The account has a video called “Coffee With A Scholar,” allegedly depicting a conversation with a Georgetown professor named Reid Roberts who discusses how robots will be the slaves of the future, before he learns on camera that Trump has resigned. Georgetown does not have a professor named Reid Roberts listed on its website.
Kris Coratti, the Washington Post vice president of communications, said in the morning that that the organization was looking into it. By the evening, she had an update: “We will not tolerate others misrepresenting themselves as The Washington Post, and we are deeply concerned about the confusion it causes among readers. We are seeking to halt further improper use of our trademarks.”
The Washington Post complained to the computer provider that hosts the website, according to Andy Bichlbaum, the co-founder of the Yes Men, the “trickster activist collective,” that took responsibility for the paper alongside organizer L.A. Kaufman and author Onnesha Roychoudhuri. As of 12:45 p.m., the website was flagged as a “suspected phishing site,” and the content had been taken down. (A version has already been cached.)
Bichlbaum isn’t too concerned about a lawsuit from the Post. “We’ve been doing this for 20 years and we’ve only gotten one lawsuit,” he says. “Many complaints, but nothing has stuck.”
He also dismissed the idea that the stunt created confusion. “You would have to be pretty dense to actually take this as real news,” he says. “It’s so easily verifiable, and there’s tons of clues in it … People seem very intensely amused by it, and that’s … the main goal—that people find it funny, forward it, and the ideas in it get widely covered.”
Rather than the newspaper’s current slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness,” this ersatz version says, “Democracy awakens in action.” And the print copy of the faked newspaper comes with an action guide called “Bye-Bye: A Guide To Bringing Him Down.” It instructs readers to “Use all the tools in the activist toolbox. Be creative. Find joy and humor in the fight.”
“The story this paper tells is more reasonable than our current reality,” Roychoudhuri said in a release. “And it’s anything but far-fetched. We’re already seeing unprecedented levels of protest and resistance. Now we just need to ask ourselves: What’s next? This paper offers a blueprint to help us reclaim our democracy.”
Many Washington Post employees are less than amused by the stunt.
CodePink, an anti-imperialist organization that often stages visually jarring protests in D.C., had some members involved in distributing copies of the paper. CodePink posted a video of co-founder Medea Benjamin handing out the editions in the Capitol complex, to laughter from the crowd.
“Trump’s gone!” Benjamin says in the video. “It’s in the Washington Post. History is being made, and you are a part of it.”
This post has been updated with information from The Yes Men and a further statement from the Washington Post.