The day before the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a mysterious press release arrived in my email box titled â€œHUD Reverses New Orleans Policy.â€� It explained that in a dramatic about-face, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson decided the agency was going to reverse its decision to demolish 5,000 public housing units in New Orleans. "Our charter, here at HUD, is to ensure access to affordable housing for those who need it the most. This past year in New Orleans, I am ashamed to say that we have clearly failed to do this," Jackson was quoted as saying.
According to the release, HUD also pledged $1.8 billion to bring displaced New Orleanians home and to provide them with jobs. And it announced that Shell and Exxon, since they made so much in profits this year, would fund rebuilding of the Gulf Coast wetlands to prevent future devastation.
Sound too good to be true?
It is. The announcement was the latest elaborate prank by the self-described â€œbig timeâ€� criminal impersonators, The Yes Men. On Monday, one Yes Man managed to get on stage before 1000 attendees of the â€œGulf Coast Reconstruction and Hurricane Preparedness Summitâ€� in Kenner, Louisiana. Posing as a HUD official standing in for Secretary Jackson, â€œRene Oswinâ€� made the announcement that HUDâ€™s previous policy was forged in the stereotype that â€œthe [housing] projects caused crime and unemployment,â€� and that the agency had been wrong.
Oswin made the announcement standing next to New Orleans Mayor Nagin and Louisiana Governor Blanco.
The LA Times used the incident to briefly talk about the lack of affordable housing in New Orleans and residentsâ€™ fight against the government to return home. An article on CNN includes Oswinâ€™s responses after the hoax was revealed and the goal of the hoax â€“ to bring attention to institutions doing â€œreally bad things.â€� However if you watch the accompanying video news story on the incident, and likely the version TV-waters saw, the focus is on just who the mysterious imposter is and whether heâ€™s still loose in New Orleans.
The Yes Men have also posed, quite successfully, as Haliburton and Dow Chemical officials.