A parody "special edition" of The Washington Post. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Yes Labs)
Media critic

The unreal Washington Post that anti-Trump activists handed out around town Wednesday morning looks a lot like the real Washington Post, at least upon first glance. The banner is the same; design touches parallel the real thing; the layout looks plausible; the weather notice is strong. Viewed at a distance, it’s possible to mistake the “paper” for the real thing.

Upon closer examination, however! Here’s how the parody newspaper, distributed at commuter-heavy spots downtown Wednesday, presents its top story:

The Post doesn’t dateline stories that arise in the District, as does this phony one. There’s another slip-up a few lines below, too, where the “story” reports that Trump “issued no formal statement, though four White House aides — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — claim they found a napkin on the president’s desk. . . .” Bolding added to highlight less-than-state-of-the-art mimicry! Don’t you resistance types know that The Post, among other media outlets, prefers to offer hollow explanations for why people request anonymity? For instance: “ . . . spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments." Or: “spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the preparations.”

Maybe try one of those in the next edition of Parody Washington Post.

The theme of the exercise is that Trump has “hastily” departed the White House in spring 2019 (the “paper” is dated May 1, 2019); that “months of protest led to ouster,” according to a jump-headline on page A7; that New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet wrote an editorial — talk about breaking a newspaper norm! — admitting fault with media coverage: “We must understand how we — and every other major news outlet — have gone astray,” notes the faux Baquet. There’s also a look-back piece lauding women for their role in the fantasy defenestration of Trump. “The counter-Trump movement would not be made only of women. But they would lead it, as surely as they propelled past American movements for universal suffrage, for labor protections, and for civil rights,” noted the piece bylined by one “Francesca Lu.”

The “newspaper" was wrapped around an insert titled “Bye Bye: A Guide to Bringing Him Down," containing articles on protest. Authors of these pieces are real people, as opposed to the fictitious bylines in the “Washington Post.” One of the guide pieces carries the byline of L.A. Kauffman, author of “Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism.” Kauffman writes that the anti-Trump movement needs to pressure Democrats as much, if not more than, Republicans. “Democrats have considerably more power to impede Trump’s actions than they’ve been willing to employ,” writes Kauffman.

The parody hatched from the efforts of Kauffman, author Onnesha Roychoudhuri and “trickster activist collective” the Yes Men, according to a news release. “This newspaper is a fantasy,” says Kauffman in the release, “but it’s rooted in both reality and scholarship. Our stories build on real-world resistance to Trump and insights about how ordinary people can dislodge an unfit leader.”

In a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, Kauffman said that the activists printed 25,000 copies, with the entire project costing in the $30,000 range. About a dozen “core” people did the work of carrying the idea to fruition, Kauffman said. The Post itself issued this statement on Twitter regarding the effort:

Kauffman, however, said that the choice of parodying The Post was a “compliment” to the outfit. “There is a long history of parody and satire of newspapers,” Kauffman said. “The Yes Men has done it numerous times. There are many other groups that have done this as a creative intervention.” That is correct: The Erik Wemple Blog, as editor of the Washington City Paper in 2003, participated in publishing a parody of The Post’s Express commuter paper. Our goal back then was just to make fun of The Post.

The goal of Kauffman’s parody is a bit more high-minded — to present a “work of future fiction or speculative fiction. It is a vision of a future we’d like to see.”

Nor does Kauffman abide the labeling of her product as “fake.” “I think it’s very important that we not allow Donald Trump’s Drumbeat about fake news to take away our ability to dream and imagine and create visions for the future,” she said. The “newspaper” distributed by Kauffman et al. on Wednesday proclaims victory over Trump but steers clear of an exhaustive discussion of his shortcomings, his lies, his corruption, etc. “We were taking that all as a given . . . as it should be, that Trump is transparently unfit to be the president of the United States,” Kauffman said. “Our focus is very much on what is within the capacity of ordinary people to influence.”

If nothing else, the effort goes to show how much work goes into producing and distributing a print product. “Nine months,” responded Kauffman when we asked how long the planning had lasted.