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Publications Receive Fake Announcement About a McDonald's-Chipotle Merger

February 15, 2017

In what appeared to be an attempt to generate coverage of fake news, USA Today and at least one other news outlet received an apparently fictitious press release on Tuesday claiming that McDonald’s would submit an unsolicited bid to acquire the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain.

“This is completely fabricated,” McDonald’s spokesperson Terri Hickey told USA Today. “It is not our press release and there is no truth to its claim.”

The release was convincingly formatted, with business language and the typical structure of a corporate merger announcement. It even quoted McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook as justifying the bid in light of Chipotle’s recent struggles.

McDonald’s owned Chipotle before spinning it off in 2006. The fast-casual chain has been ailing since outbreaks of food-borne illnesses at some of its restaurants were widely reported in early 2016, while McDonald’s has been seeking new ways to grow its own business.

The announcement’s anonymous emailer did not respond to USA Today’s attempt to authenticate the release or the sender’s identity. It was branded as coming via Marketwired, a Nasdaq division that distributes press releases. “The information in question is not from a news release issued via Marketwired’s systems,” spokesperson Will Briganti said. Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold said the chain has “no knowledge of any intention by McDonald’s to acquire shares.”

The episode demonstrates that phony information can appear real, and news media have to closely scrutinize the material they receive. — Greg Beaubien

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