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Fake New York Times op-ed a WikiLeaks hoax

Doug Gross, CNN
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last month.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last month.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fake editorial purportedly by ex-New York Times editor fools some on Web
  • In it, the Times' Bill Keller, a WikiLeaks critic, appears to support the group
  • Times' blog editor Nick Bilton shared it on Twitter, before deleting post
  • On Twitter, WikiLeaks takes credit for the ruse

(CNN) -- A fake editorial about WikiLeaks, supposedly by the former executive editor of The New York Times, was making the rounds this weekend. It was mocked up so well that it even fooled at least one Times staffer.

The fake piece, written under the name of the Times' Bill Keller, defended the controversial group known for acquiring, and publishing, secret documents from governments throughout the world.

On Sunday, the group said its supporters were behind the hoax, which was published on a Web page that looks convincingly like a page on the Times' site.

"Yes. We admit it. WikiLeaks (Assange & co) and our great supporters where (sic) behind the successful NYTimes banking blockade hoax on @nytkeller," WikiLeaks posted on its official Twitter feed Sunday.

Keller, meanwhile, also said the thoughts weren't his.

"There is a fake op-ed going around under my name, about WikiLeaks," he wrote, in all-caps, on his Twitter feed. "Emphasis on 'fake.' As in, not mine."

The page was published with an opinion-nytimes.com URL instead of nytimes.com. It linked back to the Times site and resembled a real Times opinion piece in almost every way. Someone also created a fake Twitter account for Keller, replacing one of the lowercase L's in his name with a capital letter I, and tweeted out the editorial.

The ruse fooled Nick Bilton, editor of the Times' Bits technology blog, among others. Bilton tweeted the faux post, then quickly deleted it.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since last month. He is wanted for questioning on Sweden on sex abuse charges, which his supporters say are politically motivated.

Assange, who denies the allegations, has said he fears that if he turns himself in, he'll be sent to the United States. He has angered U.S. officials by, among other things, publishing information allegedly documenting U.S. cyberattacks on Iran and a White House "kill list" of terror suspects.

He has not been charged with any crime in either the United States or Sweden.

In the fake editorial, it appeared that Keller, who has been critical of WikiLeaks, had decided to support the controversial organization.

"As those of you who have followed my turbulent relationship with WikiLeaks and its Guru-In-Chief Julian Assange know, I am first in line when it comes to distancing myself from his brand of transparency without government checks and balances," the fake post reads. "(But) you don't have to embrace Assange as a kindred spirit to believe that what he did in publishing those cables falls under the protection of the First Amendment."

The post links to a February column by Keller when he remarked on being repeatedly asked to speak about WikiLeaks because he was the editor who approved the use of some of its releases in Times stories.

"It's amazing they keep inviting me to these things, since I'm a bit of a spoilsport," the real Keller wrote in that February column. "My consistent answer to the ponderous question of how WikiLeaks transformed our world has been: really, not all that much. It was a hell of a story and a wild collaboration, but it did not herald, as the documentarians yearn to believe, some new digital age of transparency. In fact, if there is a larger point, it is quite the contrary."

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