I read a story years ago whose major themes stuck with me but I can't remember the name or author. I'm almost certain it was a short story. From what I can remember, the plot went roughly as follows:
Humans (on Earth?) receive a distress signal in the form of a video transmission from a peaceful race. They may have looked like cute furry elephants or something. I think they were from Barnard's star system but this story isn't listed in Wikipedia's page of stories associated with each system. Humans then mounted a huge rescue/aid effort and built a ship and sent it out to the planet. When they got there, they realize they were deceived and the transmission was fake. They get taken into a giant ship or something and are addressed by a huge federation of different alien races. The federation was peaceful but I think they had some strange policy that made them do this. That's all I remember.