On 20 July 2007, the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS opened with these words by the inimitable Bill Moyers:
“Here with me now are two partners of Triglyceride Investments, a private equity fund that recently announced its intention of combining the assets of all the hedge funds on Wall Street in order to bring under a single canopy of ownership every media outlet in America. Their prospectus contends that the handful of big media companies that control most of what you see, hear, and read cannot possibly produce maximum return on investment as long as each has to field its own army of lobbyists in Washington.
“If only one holding company instead of four or five controlled all the country’s radio and television stations and all of its cable, newspaper, and Internet outlets, eliminating the need for the competitive purchase of politicians, the savings on campaign contributions alone would increase the bottom line tenfold.
“Not the least of their argument is that since our present media system and Washington so closely mirror each others’ interests, it could even be possible to close down the government altogether and have the country run by Wall Street, saving huge sums of money now spent on perpetuating an impression to the contrary. Joining me are Andy Bichlbaum, the chairman of Triglyceride Investments, and his partner, Mike Bonanno, chief executive of their offshore subsidiary, Tsetse Media Inc., with headquarters in the Marianas Islands.”
Bill talks with the two ‘money men’ very seriously for a couple of minutes — before letting on that it’s all a big joke. The two men are not from Wall Street – they’re the ‘Yes Men’ and “they serve up satirical humor laced with lunacy to call the media’s attention to serious issues”.
The Yes Men are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, two impersonators who use satire to bring media attention to issues that otherwise might be overlooked.
Their premise, from their website, is:
Small-time criminals impersonate honest people in order to steal their money. Targets are ordinary folks whose ID numbers fell into the wrong hands. Honest people impersonate big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.
It all started some years ago when they set up a parody of the World Trade Organization’s website. Somebody mistook it for the real thing and they got a serious invitation to speak as experts at an international conference in Austria.
“We actually see this as a form of journalism. Or perhaps more precisely, the form of collaboration of journalists,” explains Bichlbaum in his interview with Bill Moyers.
“A lot of the issues that we address journalists want to cover. But…in many situations, editorial control won’t let them unless there’s a good little hook behind it. And so, we’ve found a way to create funny spectacles that give journalists the excuse to cover issues.”
To me, their best prank was when they managed to fool BBC World TV in front of a global audience. In December 2004, on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, “Dow representative” “Jude Finisterra” went on BBC World TV to announce that the company was finally going to compensate the victims with US$ 12 billion, and clean up the mess in Bhopal. The story shot around the world, much to the chagrin of Dow, who briefly disavowed any responsibility. And the BBC was left with egg all over its smug face.
Watch how the mighty news giant fell for a prank by two determined men:
After this, would you ever trust BBC World when it claims to give us the bigger picture?
And here’s the UK Channel Four’s gleeful documentation of how the BBC and other news media fell for the Yes Men:
The Yes Men have also impersonated representatives from Halliburton, Exxon and others, giving public presentations aimed at exposing what they believe to be discrepancies between how these groups want to be seen and how they really act. They call this process, “identity correction.”
While some criticize them for deception and call their hijinx unethical, they argue “these kinds of [corporate and political] wrongdoings are at such a scale – they’re so vast compared to our white lies that we think it’s ethical.”
Mike and Andy released their first film in 2004 entitled, “The Yes Men,” as well as a book, The Yes Men: The True Story of the End of the World Trade Organisation. They are planning on releasing a new film shortly.
If I ever meet them, I’ll have just one question: just how do you suppress the giggles as you fool the gullible?