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Yes Men Strike Again

A spokesman claiming to speak for Dow Chemical declared on BBC TV in December that for the first time Dow would accept full responsibility for the 1984 disaster in which lethal gas escaped into the city of Bhopal, India, from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide, which became a Dow subsidiary in 1999. In what has been called one of the worst industrial disasters in history, the gas release killed thousands and left tens of thousands still suffering debilitating illness.

Jude Finisterra, who identified himself as a spokesman for the company, made the announcement on the 20th anniversary of the disaster. He outlined the company's plans to liquidate Union Carbide and use the $12 billion proceeds to compensate victims and clean up the site. Finisterra also announced that the company would finally release the full chemical composition of the toxic cloud and the findings from studies that Union Carbide conducted shortly after the disaster.

In a few hours the story spread on news wires around the world, appearing twice on Reuters. It was heralded with jubilation in Bhopal and cost Dow a $2 billion plunge on the Frankfurt stock exchange. That was until the BBC revealed one small problem with the story: Jude Finisterra did not represent Dow. His real name is Andy Bichelbaum; he is a member of the Yes Men.

Identifying themselves as “honest people” who “impersonate big time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them,” the Yes Men earlier achieved notoriety by masquerading as representatives of the World Trade Organization and announcing its abolition (see YES!, Winter 2005). Their pranks employ the following formula: A website purports to represent some organization; an unwary journalist or convention organizer requests a statement or appearance; a politically pointed prank ensues.

In an interview on Democracy Now!, Bichelbaum said the latest ruse began with their website, www.dowethics.com. Someone from the BBC e-mailed a request for an official statement on the disaster's anniversary. The BBC broadcast two apologies following the hoax, and Dow reiterated its disavowals of responsibility for Bhopal, later regaining all its lost stock price.

Darrin Burgess is a former YES! magazine intern. There is no connection between the Yes Men and YES! magazine.

 

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