Code Pink’s Hoax Makes Some See Red
April 02, 2008
Oakland Tribune|by Kristin Bender
BERKELEY — CodePink should be turning red.
That seems to be the consensus of many who were on the receiving end of a bogus announcement Tuesday by the radical anti-war group that the embattled U.S. Marine Corps recruiting center in Berkeley was caving to the pressure of weekly protests and leaving town.
“If you want to be taken seriously as an organization of serious protest, then you don’t play jokes — even on April Fools’ Day,” said Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, who has written about the politics of language.
CodePink and other anti-war groups have been protesting the Marine recruiting center in downtown Berkeley for months, hoping to force the recruiters to leave town.
A CodePink official defended the hoax Tuesday.
“In CodePink we tend to have a sense of humor,” said CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin. “We tend to joke about a lot of things. It keeps us going where other anti-war groups have gone by the wayside.”
Let your public officials know how you feel about this action!
Gunnery Sgt. Pauline Franklin with the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Washington, D.C., verified Tuesday that there are no plans to relocate the Berkeley office, which is conducting business as usual.
The April Fools’ hoax — certainly not the first from CodePink — started Monday evening when the group posted a news release on its Web site boldly announcing “Marine Recruiting Center Leaving Berkeley: Agreement Reached with Landlord, City, and Protesters.”
The release said Sasha Shamszad, the owner and landlord of the Marine recruiting center, “has reached an amicable agreement with the Marines to redeploy from Berkeley” and that further details would be given at a noon news conference Tuesday.
The release included false quotes attributed to Shamszad.
“The situation was becoming untenable,” the false quote said. “The presence of the Marines sparking daily protests have had a negative impact on local businesses. The city has been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in police overtime. And some groups have been calling for a national boycott of our city. So I sat down with representatives of the Marines and we worked out a solution.”
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Shamszad said, “Someone is in la-la land here. There’s a lease involved here. We live in a society where contracts are a big deal. These people are my tenants and I’m a professional. Once they have a lease, unless they break the rules, you can’t get them out.”
The center’s lease runs through December 2009, subject to termination if the government cannot provide funding, Franklin said.
CodePink also invented quotes from a civilian Marine Corps employee named Michael Applegate, the director of the Marine Manpower Plans and Policy Division. The release quoted Applegate as saying the downtown Berkeley office is not a good use of taxpayer money. Applegate was not available for comment Tuesday, but Franklin said officials aren’t angry about the hoax.
“It’s a protest group that has very strong feelings, just as all protest groups do, and this is just one thing that they’ve done,” Franklin said.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said the publicity stunt had people calling his office and others in the city. Although Bates initially supported giving CodePink a permit fee waiver and a free parking space at the Marine center for their weekly protests, he criticized their prank.
“I think they have hurt their credibility with this farce,” he said.
But Benjamin disagreed.
“We do believe in putting out some positive ideas of what we want to see, and what better way to do it than April Fools’ Day,” she said.
Benjamin said she hopes the hoax will move people to action.
“We’ve got a topsy turvy world and if more people got out and joined us this wouldn’t be an April Fools’ joke. (It) would be reality,” she said. “The Marines would be gone from Berkeley, the war would be over, there would be impeachment of Bush and Cheney and we’d be upholding our Constitution.”
What’s more, Benjamin said, “We do these types of things every April 1.”
And on other days as well.
In October, CodePink distributed a phony news release saying Blackwater USA, a private military contractor, was creating a new “Department of Corporate Integrity” that would “put the mercy back in mercenary,” according to published reports.
CBS News, the Associated Press and other news organizations ran with the story, according to published reports about the hoax.
Also Tuesday, CodePink distributed an invented letter from John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, that said he had decided to start impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The letter ended with “April Fools!”
At least one Bay Area television station — KTVU Channel 2 — ran a short segment about the Berkeley Marine center’s false departure on the 6 p.m. news Monday. KTVU reported that the building at 64 Shattuck Square was up for rent. By the 10 p.m. newscast, the Oakland-based TV station warned of the “hoax” by CodePink.
Despite criticism early Tuesday, CodePink went ahead with a “mock” news conference at noon Tuesday where a “pink Marine” announced the Marines were moving out.
A real Marine in uniform, who declined to give his name, was outside the recruiting center Tuesday afternoon because he had heard reports that the Marines were leaving Berkeley.
He held a sign that read, “I thought Berkeley wouldn’t judge me.”
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