BROOKE GLADSTONE: Experienced protesters know that if they want to have an impact, they must break out of the media's preferred story line of protester versus police. Or so says Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno -- otherwise known as "The Yes Men" -- otherwise known as representatives of the World Trade Organization -- otherwise known as spokesmen for Dow Chemical. You see, the Yes Men impersonate whoever they consider to be the world's biggest criminals to show them for who they truly are. A few years ago, the duo built a satirical website for the WTO that landed them invitations from media and conference planners who thought they were the real McCoy. Impersonating the WTO at a conference in Salzburg, the Yes Men praised Hitler's economic policies and advocated the idea of selling votes in democracies. But none of their prior opponents, says Yes Man Bonanno, can match the sophistication of the Republicans this week in New York.
MIKE BONANNO: We are, in a sense, playing a role in their drama. Everybody's doing everything that they can to avoid that -- to avoid becoming the foil in their story, but it is their story, and it's totally scripted -- every word is written out. So, it's a challenge to work within that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Of course, the event on Wednesday night --that wasn't scripted. A protester was escorted from the convention floor, and the delegates filled in by shouting Four More Years, Four More Years. Was that event good for the protesting community or was it bad?
MIKE BONANNO: I mean the danger of something like that, of course, is that it plays into their narrative. Again, it's on their terms, and that makes it very hard to deliver your own message instead of the idea that there is these crazies who come in and disrupt meetings. But if it wasn't happening, it would be much worse, because there's so little opportunity to have a voice. I mean obviously they've constructed this so that there won't be any debate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have you guys found a way to trip up your opponents on their own narrative? Can you give me an example?
ANDY BICHLBAUM: We've been working on giving people makeovers, to turn them from activists to Republicans so that they can go and give Republicans tours of the city. We're saying okay, let's not play this archetypal role of protester; let's get a group of us all playing Republicans, so that we can have some kind of conversation with somebody whose views you're opposed to.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Your intention isn't to convert the delegates, though, is it? I mean isn't your intention to send your message to a broader group through the media?
MIKE BONANNO: Well, ideally it would convert the delegates. That's the absolute ideal. There, of course, it's to--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Come on.
MIKE BONANNO: Well, one of the suggested tours that you can take the delegates on is of Orthodox Churches in Manhattan that totally disagree with Bush's policies. Anyways, it's pie in the sky stuff. The main idea there was to get a lot of activists participating in this particular idea of media spectacle.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Much has been made of the role of humor among the left in this campaign, and not just the high profile people like Al Franken and Michael Moore. But even from the street level, there has been Billionaires for Bush that's gotten a lot of play. Even their placards are funny, you know, "Widen the Income Gap," "Taxes Are Not for Everyone." A bit heavyhanded, but kind of funny, I guess. Do you think humor is a wedge in?
ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, the role of the media in reporting news is so tightly conscripted, it's unbelievable, so that humor is one of the very few ways to actually get something into the media. I mean perhaps the protest movement has to try as many things as the Republicans are trying to get their policies into place. The right is using all kinds of incredibly creative techniques, like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, or whatever they're called. Perhaps the left has to get a bit more radical in the means it's trying out.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: By "radical," you mean in commercial terms -thinking outside the box.
ANDY BICHLBAUM: Thinking outside the box. Creating theatrics that are not bound by the four walls. Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how do you think it's worked this week in New York?
ANDY BICHLBAUM: For some of them it's worked tremendously well. I think the unemployment line was great. That was when thousands of people lined up from downtown all the way up to Madison Square Garden holding up pink slips above their head. I mean, in other cases it's just a matter of creating the right image, where the picture says everything it needs to. So the people who made a thousand coffins, for example, got lots of photographs of those coffins into the media. The picture that was on the cover of the New York Times which was just a very simple image of a, you know, circle with a slash through it, and "Bush" on it -- it was really amazing. Of course there wasn't a headline there that said, you know, Down with Bush, [LAUGHS] or something. They can't print that. But they can print the photo. So it has been working.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, thank you very much.
MIKE BONANNO: Thank you.
ANDY BICHLBAUM: Thank you for having us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno are the original Yes Men. An eponymous documentary film about them and their anti-corporate pranks opens in theaters later this month. [MUSIC]