Is Groupon historically illiterate or exceptionally clever? On Friday it issued a press release announcing a Presidents Day offer: customers would get $10 off when they purchased a $40 deal. The release stated, “The $10 bill, as everyone knows, features President Alexander Hamilton—undeniably one of our greatest presidents and most widely recognized for establishing the country’s financial system.”
The slip—Hamilton was the first Treasury secretary but never president—launched a thousand tweets, then dozens of television mentions. But was it a flub or an intentional publicity generator? When one person wrote to Groupon to say Hamilton never was president, a Groupon representative responded in what I hope was a tongue-in-cheek way: “We respect everyone’s beliefs. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” Another inquirer on Friday received a similarly insouciant Groupon response—“We’re big supporters of celebrating great American presidents”—and concluded, “The Groupon release is a deliberate troll.”
Other responses: “a brilliant way to get viral publicity” and “it’s safe to say that Groupon has won the day.” But Groupon has probably also done more than high school history classes to educate Americans about who Alexander Hamilton was. Mixed in with Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Grant on the denominations of bills most Americans use, it would be easy to suppose that Hamilton was president—but yesterday NBC, CNN, Fox News, and others covered the brilliant flub and educated their viewers.
Groupon today may be grinning, but I do want to note how The New York Times recently added one more example of biblical illiteracy to its long record. The Times back on Dec. 15 stated that Joseph (of the book of Genesis) had been Egypt’s king, rather than Pharaoh’s minister. Times editors may have first put this in the “who cares?” category: The newspaper did not publish a correction until Jan. 28, and then it noted, “A reader pointed out the error in an email shortly after the article was published; this correction was delayed because editors did not follow through on the complaint.”