Americans are reeling this evening at the news that they have, for the last five years, been the unwitting participants in the most elaborate Reality TV show ever produced.
News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch intervened this morning to suspend the show's production, which had successfully installed a bogus President in the White House in 2001. Although the stunt had only been approved by President Gore to run for seven days, its unexpected success had emboldened the show's producers at Fox Television to extend its run fully five years longer.
"A joke's a joke, but stone the crows, the whole thing was getting bloody ridiculous," Murdoch said. "It's one thing to make a bit of money dicking people around, but there was some real suffering on the cards if we let this thing keep going much longer. We might have got offside with the Chinese, and I don't have to draw you a map to tell you what that would have done to our revenues."
The installation of "President" Bush rates as a quantum leap in the degree of malevolence employed by a reality TV show, even by the rapidly deteriorating standards of the genre.
Murdoch conceded that with the benefit of hindsight, he might have stepped in sooner to end the production as it spiralled out of control, however he vigorously defended the initial decision to stage such an elaborate deception of the American people.
"We could see that the game was on as soon as the Fox News numbers started to lift. Anyone who could swallow that stuff was clearly not the full quid. The obvious next question was: what else might they fall for?"
"The Big Brother crap was working well in the dimwit teenage demographic, but we couldn't see any reason why you couldn't get a much wider chunk of the audience sucked in with the right story. What we didn't count on was that people would stay clueless for so long."
Despite his protestations that the corporation had done little wrong, the ageing media magnate was clearly uncomfortable at the indignation that erupted almost instantaneously at the announcement, although his hastily convened press conference was punctuated with occasional hilarity as Murdoch recounted the catalogue of failures that punctuated the bogus presidency.
"The bloke was obviously miles out of his depth from the very beginning. Talk about your idiot son. He manages to tank one perfectly good business after another, he only ever gets out of trouble by getting the family to pull strings, and he somehow never manages to strike oil in Texas. There was no way he wasn't going to make a colossal balls-up of the job if you were stupid enough to put him in the White House."
Brandishing a popular item of viral internet humour, Murdoch recited from a list of major disasters of the Bush administration, noting those which had been ticked and those which were yet to come.
"I don't know how they got hold of copyright material from the Fox Studios, but as you can see, they thought the whole thing was a joke. Well it wasn't. That's the script, and as you can see, they'd worked all the way down from Abu Graib to Katrina."
"If you thought the flood was bad, you should see what was coming with the locusts. Full credit to the production people - they really pulled out all of the stops, but locusts, I mean, really. Have you seen what those things can do? Shame we won't be able to make a buck off the Osama-Jenna tape, but."
Murdoch said that the constitutional and legal ramifications were "nothing to get too excited about".
"We've got the same team that sorts out our broadcasting licences working on it. They reckon everything can be put back to where it was before the show started by the close of business on Friday, and Al Gore can start his first term on Monday."
Media commentators say they doubt that any outrage will harm the long-term prospects for News Corporation.
"What this tells you is that Murdoch has everyone's nuts in a much tighter vice than we ever thought," said Wall Street Journal commentator Hiram Firam. "Do you have any idea how many organs of government had to look the other way to let this happen? This guy has serious influence for a man who only became a US citizen in late middle age."
Firam projected a sharp upturn in business confidence. "Bush was starting to look real tricky. People are just relieved that someone else finally has the football."
In a day of remarkable revelations, however, one surprising element of the sensational disclosure caught everyone by surprise. Responding to questions about the future of "Ann Coulter", Murdoch disclosed that the "world's scariest neocon" was not in fact a fabrication of the Fox network. "Wouldn't have a clue where she came from, mate," Murdoch said. "All I can tell you is that even for Fox, making up a person like that would have been a bridge too far."