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A sophisticated, fake Washington Post is being distributed online and in print in the nation’s capital today.
This morning, commuters at Union Station were offered free copies of the paper, which purports to tell of Donald Trump’s resignation. The lead headline blares, “Unpresidented: Trump hastily departs White House, Ending Crisis.”
At first glance, both the website, my-washingtonpost.com and newspaper are easily mistaken for the real thing.
Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly tweeted a picture of the paper, writing, “The fake WaPo being distributed around the White House is pretty convincing at first glance.”
The fake WaPo being distributed around the White House is pretty convincing at first glance. pic.twitter.com/kEl5E8OlKd— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) January 16, 2019
Great care has been taken on such visual cues as the font and front-facing web appearance. But upon closer examination, details like the date of publication—May 1, 2019—and tongue-in-cheek headlines such as “Pres. Pence Begins ‘Clipped Duck’ Term” and “News Organizations on Trump’s Rise to Power: Our Bad” give it away as a farce—and an arguably amusing one at that.
The parody publication appears to be led by individuals opposed to the president.
The paper claims that global celebrations had broken out following news of Trump’s departure, details how protest efforts led by women led to the end of his “nasty, brutish, and ultimately short presidency,” and writes of a wave of progressive initiatives in Congress “reining in corporate power, raising taxes on the wealthiest, and universal health care.”
The lead story says Trump departed via helicopter in the middle of the night, leaving behind only a napkin on his Oval Office desk, “scrawled in red ink with the following message: ‘Blame Crooked Hillary & Hfior & the Fake News Media.’”
The story claims that none of the president’s aides can explain the significance of “Hfior.”
Another story, “The Civil War that Never Was” claims that Trump urged his supporters to take arms to defend his presidency, an abject failure that led to four arrests when a “handful of Trump supporters heeded the call” and were overwhelmed by a peaceful protest of 1.5 million in the National Mall.
In another piece, “Fictional Washington Post Eerily Predicted Real Events,” the publication takes a turn for the meta. It begins, “Felicita Mendez, the campaign director of a leading progressive organization, holds up a copy of a fictional issue of the Washington Post that looks, feels, and smells very much like the real pages of this paper. It’s uncanny how closely its story echoed what really happened with Trump.”
The story goes on to state that the fake paper, distributed four months before the president’s fictional resignation, had been notable for a “fact-based approach” and, presumably, ability to predict the future via “pre-real news.”
All the sources quoted in the paper appear to be fake, as do the authors of the stories themselves. The authors’ bylines all also appear to be female. Emails the Daily Dot sent to credited writers’ email addresses bounced back as undeliverable.
People were quick to attempt to assign blame (credit?) for the parody publication.
On Twitter, Business Insider reporter Joe Perticone initially pointed the finger at MoveOn.org, writing, “Looks like MoveOn is the group behind the fake (and extremely irresponsible) Washington Post newspapers being distributed in DC today and accompanying fake website.”
Less than an hour later, he deleted the tweet and said that MoveOn had denied involvement.
“Deleting this tweet. I confirmed that MoveOn isn’t behind it, per a staffer there,” Perticone wrote.
Deleting this tweet. I confirmed that MoveOn isn't behind it, per a staffer there pic.twitter.com/IhlcOl9dF8— Joe Perticone (@JoePerticone) January 16, 2019
Thus far, no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the publication.
The (real) Washington Post was not amused, tweeting, “There are fake print editions of The Washington Post being distributed around downtown DC, and we are aware of a website attempting to mimic The Post’s. They are not Post products, and we are looking into this.”
There are fake print editions of The Washington Post being distributed around downtown DC, and we are aware of a website attempting to mimic The Post’s. They are not Post products, and we are looking into this.— Washington Post PR (@WashPostPR) January 16, 2019
Update 3:47pm CT, Jan. 16: Early this afternoon, activists took credit for the prank, confirming to several news outlets that they were responsible for creating and distributing the sartorial publication.
Anti-Trump organizer L.A. Kauffman told NPR that she and author Onnesha Roychoudhuri collaborated with the prankster group Yes Men, which was also behind a sartorial New York Times in 2008, to create the paper. “This paper is a dream, it’s not a deception,” Kauffman reportedly said. Roychoudhuri told Splinter News that their goal was not to fool people, but to make them wonder “what if?”
Physical copies of the paper reportedly included a pull-out section entitled “Bye-bye: A Guide To Bringing Him Down” that led to the source of the publication.
Claire Goforth is a Jacksonville, Florida-based journalist covering politics, culture, justice, and unicorns. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from regional alt-weeklies to Al Jazeera.