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July 20, 2007

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.

"We actually see this as a form of journalism. Or perhaps more precisely, the form of collaboration with journalists," explains Bichlbaum in his interview with Bill Moyers.

"A lot of the issues that we address journalists want to cover. 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."

The Yes Men have impersonated representatives from Halliburton, Dow Chemical, 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."

What do you think about the Yes Men's methods? Take our poll.

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 ORGANIZATION. They plan on releasing a new film shortly.

Here is a look at some of the Yes Men's more famous "identity corrections":

Dow Chemical

When Dow Chemical bought out Union Carbide in 2001, they became one of the world's largest chemical corporations. However, some believe they also inherited a connection to the Bhopal Disaster, which occurred in 1984 when a Union Carbide pesticide plant released an estimated 40 tones of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, immediately killing nearly 3,000 people with thousands more experiencing partial or permanent disabilities. The victims of the disaster have been fighting Union Carbide for years for reparations for the tragedy, but Dow has claimed that since they purchased the company after an Indian Supreme Court approved a $470 million settlement agreement by Union Carbide, the responsibility is not theirs.

So the Yes Men set up a fake website,, which was very similar to Dow's official site. They then emailed a press release to newspapers and media outlets across the country stating Dow would never take responsibility for damages from the Bhopal gas disaster because they were only beholden to shareholders.

After Dow denied these accusations, they worked to get the original Yes Men site shut down. The Yes Men in turn set up an alternate fake site, which the BBC found and sent an invitation for a "Dow official" to appear on the show. Not knowing that he was an impostor, the BBC broadcasted an interview with Bichlbaum posing as Dow Chemical "spokesman" Jude Finisterra, where he claimed Dow would mark the 20th anniversary of the lethal gas leak in Bhopal, India by paying out $12 billion to the survivors, "simply because it is the right thing to do." Within a few hours, the real Dow unmasked Bichlbaum as an impostor.

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

When the Gulf Coast Reconstruction and Hurricane Preparedness Summit was being organized in Louisiana, the Yes Men saw an opportunity for a hoax on the housing situation in New Orleans. They contacted those in charge of the summit, claiming to be from the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton who was representing the Housing and Urban Development secretary. They claimed to have a major announcement to make at the summit.

Following Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, Bichlbaum rose to the podium under the alias of Rene Oswin, an official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and delivered a speech in which he claimed the HUD would reverse its plans to demolish 5,000 units of perfectly good public housing in order to help fix the housing crisis in New Orleans. He also claimed that Wal-Mart would withdraw its stores from the area to encourage local competition, and that ExonnMobil and Shell promised to spend $8.6 billion to finance wetlands rebuilding due to their record high profits from the past year.

Officials on all sides of the hoax worked to expose Bichlbaum as an impostor, denying all the claims he made while calling him insensitive and cruel. However, Annie Chen, media coordinator for Survivors Village, a tent-city protest for the reopening of public housing in New Orleans, told CNN, "Right now, a lie is better than the truth."

Catastrophic Loss Conference

The Yes Men performed a prank at the Catastrophic Loss conference hosted by the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. Posing as Halliburton executives, the Yes Men donned their new product, the SurvivaBall, which was designed to "save corporate executives from the effects of global warming." Setting the price tag at $100M, the Yes Men called the SurvivaBall a "gated community for one," which could "protect managers from natural or cultural disturbances of any intensity or duration."

Photo by Robin Holland

References and Reading:
Visit The Yes Men's official Web Site

Visit The Yes Men's parody Web Site about Dow Chemical

Read Jonathan Swift's satirical essay "A Moderate Proposal" on solutions to the Irish potato famine
"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled."

Read the Yes Men parody Halliburton press release
"The devices - looking like huge inflatable orbs - will include sophisticated communications systems, nutrient gathering capacities, onboard medical facilities, and a daunting defense infrastructure to ensure that the corporate mission will not go unfulfilled even when most human life is rendered impossible by catastrophes or the consequent epidemics and armed conflicts."

Just Say Yes
by Andy Bichlbaum and Michael Bonanno, THE VILLAGE VOICE, August 27, 2004
"If infiltration is your style, to get into Madison Square Garden itself you have to have a press pass or be one of the thousands of RNC volunteers - of whom, rumor has it, at least a few hundred only look like Republicans."

Watch Andy and Mike on DEMOCRACY NOW! from May 12th, 2006 discuss their Catastrophic Loss Conference prank

Read an Inteview with the Yes Men
MOTHER JONES, April 2005.

"It's an issue of time. There are so many stations with so few journalists that they cannot possibly verify all of their sources. That's how corporate press releases end up parading as news."

Watch these hijinx from The Yes Men online:
Also This Week:

Bill Moyers gets in on the joke with two impersonators who use satire to make serious points about media consolidation, journalism, business ethics, and separating fact from fiction in a world of spin.

Bill Moyers talks with poet Martin Espada about the power of words to effect social change.

>Watch teacher and poet, Aracelis Girmay, read her poem.

>Read selected poems from Martín Espada and Aracelis Girmay

Bill Moyers highlights your comments, questions and concerns.

>Have your own question and comment for Bill Moyers? Join the conversation on the Blog.
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