The Great WTO Pie Hoax

It’s well known that some regions of cyberspace Internet chat rooms,
for instance are rife with poseurs and imaginary characters. But the
World Wide Web is also a breeding ground for more elaborate
deceptions, as demonstrated by the following cautionary tale about
gall and gullibility in the information age.

It’s well known that some regions of cyberspace Internet chat rooms,
for instance are rife with poseurs and imaginary characters. But the
World Wide Web is also a breeding ground for more elaborate
deceptions, as demonstrated by the following cautionary tale about
gall and gullibility in the information age.

The story begins with www.gatt.org, which looks at first glance like
an official Web site of the World Trade Organization, the
five-year-old Switzerland-based successor to the organization that
oversaw the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Unfortunately for
the organizers of an October legal seminar on international trade in
Salzburg, Austria, a glance was all they gave it before clicking on
the “contact” link and sending a speaking invitation to Mike Moore,
the W.T.O.’s director-general.

Big mistake: it turns out the site is run by the Yes Men, a loose-knit
group of anti-free-trade activists that views hoaxes as a legitimate
weapon of protest.

Excerpts of what transpired follow, culled from e-mail correspondence
and faxes posted at www.theyesmen.org/wto:

It didn’t take long for the Yes Men to accept the invitation in Mr. Moore’s name, with a caveat:

Thank you for your kind invitation.

I may not be able to attend personally, but I would like very much to send a substitute. Would this be possible? Please let me know and I will begin the search process.

Thank you,

Mike Moore

The director of the seminar’s sponsor was happy to oblige:

Dear Mr. Moore:

Michael Devine advises me that you wish to send a staff member to speak at the 26-29 October conference in Salzburg.

If you will confirm name of the individual and contact information, I will have further information sent.

Regards, Dennis Campbell

Center for International Legal Studies

At this point, Charles Cushen, a computer programmer in Los Angeles who had been masquerading as Mr. Moore and “Alice Foley,” Mr. Moore’s secretary, created Andreas Bichlbauer (choosing the name at random
from a Vienna phone book), and made travel arrangements for Dr. Bichlbauer and two “security agents,” including a cameraman. Dr. Bichlbauer raised eyebrows with his speech, titled “Trade Regulation
Relaxation and Concepts of Incremental Improvement: Governing Perspectives from 1970 to the Present”:

Dear Ms. Foley:

We were somewhat puzzled by Dr. Bichlbauer’s participation at the conference. . . .

The essential thrust of his speech appeared to be that Italians have a lesser work ethic than the Dutch, that Americans would be better off
auctioning their votes in the presidential election to the highest bidder and that the primary role of the W.T.O. was to create a one-world culture.

In the late afternoon, a cameraman (I think it was the same one who filmed Dr. Bichlbauer’s speech) appeared at the hotel and sought to interview our delegates. He said Dr. Bichlbauer had been hit in the face with a pie outside the hotel and wanted to know if the delegates thought Dr. Bichlbauer’s speech had provoked the attack. . . .

Several of our delegates (including work-ethic impaired Italians) approached me to express concern about the speech, the alleged pie incident and the cameraman who sought interviews in the late afternoon.

Your clarification will be appreciated.

Regards, Dennis Campbell

Two days later, hoping to elicit further response, Mr. Cushen slipped
again into his Mr. Moore persona:

Dear Professor Campbell:

I was dismayed to learn of your unfortunate experience with our representative, Andreas Bichlbauer. . . . I will recommend that Dr.
Bichlbauer be required to attend a refresher course on public speaking, communication and policy before any further appearances on behalf of the W.T.O. . . .

However, having examined the presentation exhaustively, I am forced to conclude that never in any particulars do Dr. Bichlbauer’s statements
. . . depart from the spirit if not the precise letter of our intentions and aims. That is, while we of course do not advocate vote-selling or siesta-banning at the present time, it is quite true that efficiency and the streamlining of culture and politics in the interests of economic liberalization is at the core of the W.T.O.’s programme, and such practices as described by Dr. Bichlbauer are
useful in clarifying the long-range interests of global development as promoted by our organization and others.

Postscript: A W.T.O. spokesman said last week that while his organization deplored the Yes Men’s deceptive Web site and the hoax,
it respects the nature of the Internet as a forum for free expression. Mr. Cushen said “Mr. Moore” had recently received an invitation to a
textile conference in Finland and that his group was hoping to scrape together the money needed to send a successor to Dr. Bichlbauer. “We
think the ethical thing to do is to represent the W.T.O. more honestly than they represent themselves,” he said.

Author: Barnaby J. Feder

News Service: New York Times

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/07/weekinreview/07WORD.html?printpage=yes