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The Associated Press got taken for a ride this morning, publishing a news article based on a fake press release that said General Electric would donate a $3.2 billion tax refund to the U.S. government. Within 35 minutes, someone at the AP evidently figured it out, and the story was taken down, to be replaced with a terse statement admitting that "the story was based on a press release that GE says was a hoax."

Don't feel bad, AP! Granted, the fake press release--which you can read at Business Insider--looks kind of suspicious:

GE will conduct a nationwide survey to determine how the company's $3.2 billion returned refund is to be allocated. The survey will be conducted both online and offline, and will permit the public to weigh in on which of the recently-enacted budget cuts they would like to see reversed.

But we live in a world where voters swoon over birther Donald Trump, and relief funds for the BP oil spill go toward Doobie Brothers concerts. It's hard to tell the real news from the fake sometimes.

Just to clarify: GE is not giving $3.2 billion to the government, and it never received that tax refund in the first place. An activist group called the Yes Men has already taken credit for the press release.

This fits comfortably within the Yes Men's m.o. Back in 2009, they staged a news conference with a man pretending to be a Chamber of Commerce representative, and fooled several news organizations before the hoax was revealed. Later that year, the Yes Men circulated a press release supposedly from Canadian environmental minister Jim Prentice, where they pledged--in Prentice's voice--to "show the world that Canada is a leader on climate change." In fact, Canada had been the target of harsh criticism that year for its high greenhouse gas emissions.

So again, AP, don't feel bad. In the words of The Wire's Gus Haynes, everybody gets took now and then. Especially on the Internet, where even the most important stories of the day can sometimes turn out to be more fiction than fact.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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