GOOD

AP Falls for Hoax that GE Will Donate $3 Billion Tax Refund

Someone—we're pretty sure it's the The Yes Men—issued a convincing press release this morning saying GE will return the money to save jobs.

[UPDATE: This was done "in conjunction with" the Yes Men, by a tax group called U.S. Uncut. "The Yes Men were advising on this project. I'm very close with them," Andrew Boyd, of the group told WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show]



Last month, we shared a New York Times story that reported an alarming fact: GE—a company with more than $14 billion in revenue—paid no taxes in 2010. Not one cent. And in fact, The Times reported, GE got a "tax benefit" of $3.2 billion.

Well, someone—we're pretty sure it's the The Yes Men—issued a press release this morning saying GE will return all that money to save American jobs.

"GE Responds to Public Outcry – Will Donate Entire $3.2 Billion Tax Refund to Help Offset Cuts and Save American Jobs."

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Full text here if you want a more detailed satirical read from a parallel universe promising an end to tax havens and denigrating outsourcing. The release was well executed, in that it came from a url that is almost identical to the actual GE press domain.

The Associated Press bit. It reported on the hoax release as genuine. Business Insider grabbed the AP copy before the story was pulled. Amazingly the AP included these false promises, which seem pretty obviously Yes Men hoax material.

GE uses a series of foreign tax havens that the company says are legal and that led to an enormous refund for the 2010 tax year...

The company, based in Fairfield, Conn., plans to phase out tax havens over 5 years and said it will create one job in the US for each new job it creates overseas.

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USA Today also posted the AP copy before removing it.

We're pretty sure it's the Yes Men because a call to the number in the aspirational press release went to "Andy's iPhone" voicemail, and it sounded a lot like Andy Bichlbaum, founding Yes Man and frequent faux PR flak for these stunts.

The Facts

Now, a note on that $3.2 billion while we're on the topic. It's in dispute, and not just from GE.

The outstanding investigative team at ProPublica dove into this question and countered the Times findings with this:

Did GE get a $3.2 billion tax refund? No.

Did GE pay U.S. income taxes in 2010? Yes, it paid estimated taxes for 2010, and also made payments for previous years. Think of it as your having paid withholding taxes on your salary in 2010, and sending the IRS a check on April 15, 2010, covering your balance owed for 2009.

Will GE ultimately pay U.S. income taxes for 2010? After much to-ing and fro-ing -- the company says it hasn't completed its 2010 tax return -- GE now says that it will pay tax.

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ProPublica also called out The Times for running a misleading headline online, which they had already changed, but not before it sparked countless ripples around the business blogosphere, including here on GOOD.

The Times has not responded to ProPublica's alternate calculations. Maybe now that there are pranksters involved it'll be more fun to dive back into those confusing tax records for the old gray lady.

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