Commuters across the U.S. found out during Wednesday's morning rush hour that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had ended and global warming, health care spending and the economy's problems were on their way to being solved.
On behalf of a collective of liberal activists, 1,000 volunteers across the country handed out 1.2 million copies of a spoof of The New York Times, dated July 4, 2009.
At first glance, the parody, which used the Times' Gothic-style font on the nameplate, could easily be mistaken for the real thing.
The 14-page paper — which also announced the abolition of corporate lobbying, a maximum wage for CEOs and a recall for all gasoline-fuelled cars — showed up in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
The pranksters — who include a film promoter, a college teacher, journalists and others — said they wanted to encourage the administration of Democratic president-elect Barack Obama to keeps its promises.
The publication was funded by small, online contributions "to maintain the pressure on the people we've elected so they do what we've elected them to do," said a journalist who used the pseudonym Wilfred Sassoon to protect his real job at a newspaper in the New York area.
He said he helped create the paper with about 30 other people, many of whom work at New York daily newspapers.
Steven Lambert, an editor of the parody who teaches art at New York's Hunter College and Parsons The New School for Design — and gave his real name — said the project was a success.
"This really resonated with people on the street," Lambert said.
"First, there was a moment of, 'How could this be true?' But then people enjoyed this feeling of, 'Ah, amazing things really could happen!' The paper provides this vision of what's possible if we all work together."
Lambert said the team included three New York Times staffers whose names will remain secret. He said the group looked into the legal issues raised by the use of The New York Times nameplate style and believes it is within the bounds of what's known as "fair use" under federal copyright law.
On the Times' website, spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said: "This is obviously a fake issue of The Times. We are in the process of finding out more about it."
Sassoon said the project started about six months ago, when "a little group of journalists were sitting around having a beer."
The group posted a small notice on Craigslist soliciting volunteer writers and others to help. The fake paper was printed at presses around the country and The Yes Men, a New York-based prankster group, provided software and Internet support.
The group said it spent less than $100,000 US on the effort.
The lead story appears beneath the headlines "Iraq War Ends" and "Troops to Return Immediately." Another story declares, "Nation Sets Its Sights on Building Sane Economy."
The writers' political perspective is clear, from their twist on the Times' own motto "All the news that's fit to print" — "All the news we hope to print" — to a story that has "former" Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitting the Bush administration knew well before the 2003 Iraq invasion that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.
There are even fake ads, including one for a South African diamond company promising that a purchase of a diamond "will help fund the creation, fitting and maintenance of a prosthetic for an African whose hand was lost in one of the continent's brutal conflicts over diamonds."
It's not the first time the venerable newspaper has been parodied.
One spoof came out during the 1978 newspaper strike and another on April Fools' Day in 1999. The second was printed by British business tycoon Sir Richard Branson and titled "I Can't Believe It's Not The New York Times."