On Monday, New Yorkers awoke to astonishing news on the front page of the New York Times: The ware in Iraq was over, the troops were coming home, and Condoleeza Rice offered a public apology for hoodwinking the American people about WMDs . Furthermore, the paper said, plans were afoot to re-structure the economy away from predatory and monopolistic practices that enrich a few while exploiting the many, universal health care was a go and anybody who wanted a college education could get one on the government’s dime. Too good to be true? Well, for the time being, yes. But the whole point of this elaborate spoof of the New York Times was to point out that we-the-people have the power to make that which is currently ‘too good to be true’ a basic fixture of reality. So says Steve Lambert who, along with his partner-in-spoof Andy Bichlbaum, first hatched the idea for this elaborate media prank on a barstool in Brooklyn more than a year ago.
PHAWKER: So how did this idea come about?
STEVE LAMBERT: Basically me and my buddy Andy Bichlbaum were sitting in a bar in Brooklyn. And then we put the word out to our friends. People like the ladies of Code Pink and United For Peace & Justice and it just grew from there.
PHAWKER: How many copies did you print up?
STEVE LAMBERT: 1.2 million.
PHAWKER: Wow, how much did that cost?
STEVE LAMBERT: Over $100,000. Just to be clear, we had a LOT of help with this. Over 30 writers, 100 donors and we had over 1,200 sign up to distribute copies on the street.
PHAWKER: I heard you were originally planning to do this for April Fool’s Day and then decided to wait for the outcome of the election.
STEVE LAMBERT: April Fool’s Day would have been to obvious. Our plan all along was to wait for the election, no matter who won. This wasn’t about some hero swooping in and winning the election and saving us from ourselves. The whole point is that, much like the election, change comes from the people working together.
PHAWKER: So describe your ground game.
STEVE LAMBERT: We had four trucks positioned around the city, with everyone on cell phones, constantly adjusting and adapting to circumstances. So when Gawker posted the locations of our trucks we were able to scramble them, we were able to move on a dime.
PHAWKER: What was the reaction from people on the street?
STEVE LAMBERT: Overwhelmingly positive. The first reaction when you handed people the paper and it said IRAQ WAR IS OVER was people smiling. Roughly 10% would give it back when they figured it out, but the rest were totally into it. The web site version was totally slammed. We were totally overwhelmed by the response, and we had serious web people working on our site and the response took them surprise. Our servers were slammed. Already copies are selling on eBay for $200. When the Times wrote about it, they quoted a man on the street who said ‘the Times should be flattered, this will be a collector’s item.’
PHAWKER: What was the reaction of the New York Times?
STEVE LAMBERT: We have not heard from them, but they covered it as a news story. We made a concerted effort not to come across as shrill, angry liberal activists. The whole point was to point out what is possible: The war could be over, everyone could have health care and get a college education. One article I read called it ‘a liberal fantasy.’ I don’t think peace and prosperity are the stuff of liberal fantasies. Fantasy is flying cars. Things like universal health care and government-funded college educations for all are fixtures of most Western democracies. In the end, that is the message we were trying to put across to people: None of this is currently true, but it is all possible.
[Pictured above, Andy Bichlbaum and Steve Lambert on CNN last night; Liz Cole, Scott Beibin, and Andy Bichlbaum]