About That Palin Backstabbing…

Update: followup post here.

I’d assumed that the genesis of the “Sarah Palin thinks Africa is a country not a continent” story/smear was sour-grapes McCain staffers lashing out at anything but their boss for his electoral defeat.

Turns out it’s not even from a real McCain staffer, or actually even a real person at all.

The NYT:

Who would say such a thing? On Monday the answer popped up on a blog and popped out of the mouth of David Shuster, an MSNBC anchor. “Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,” Mr. Shuster said.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.

And the claim of credit for the Africa anecdote is just the latest ruse by Eisenstadt, who turns out to be a very elaborate hoax that has been going on for months. MSNBC, which quickly corrected the mistake, has plenty of company in being taken in by an Eisenstadt hoax, including The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times.

Now a pair of obscure filmmakers say they created Martin Eisenstadt to help them pitch a TV show based on the character. But under the circumstances, why should anyone believe a word they say?

“That’s a really good question,” one of the two, Eitan Gorlin, said with a laugh.

Indeed. Read the whole thing and all that.

What this tells us is that political campaigns in the future need to be much more cognizant of what’s going on in the extended blogosphere. In a properly-run campaign, this story would have been spotted by a real staffer who could have had the campaign manager say “we’ve never heard of this guy — whoever he is, he doesn’t work for us.”

It also tells us that when a story looks too good to be true — when it perfectly confirms our pre-existing bias notions — that maybe we should treat it skeptically until we can verify it independently. Remember, “unnamed sources say” is exactly equivalent to “I heard this juicy rumor.”

11 thoughts on “About That Palin Backstabbing…

  1. chrisrnps

    Two big, big problems:

    1) Sarah Palin responded to the “story”, to reporters, as if it were true, saying the “doesn’t know Africa’s a continent and not a country” story was the result of her statements during her debate and interview prep sessions having been unfairly “taken out of context” and calling the “source(s)” jerks and cowards.

    2) The “story” was believable enough, based on her history of past airheaded, know-nothing statements, that the general public believed it – the “story” sounded perfectly “in character” for what people had heard so far about Palin.

    In sum, though, it just goes to show how ineptly run the McCain-Palin campaign was, particularly held up against the “no leaks, no drama” reputation of the Obama-Biden campaign, and given the McCain campaign’s focus on “gotchas”, soundbites, and tactical attempts to grab attention one media cycle at a time – paying more attention to “winning the day” than winning the election. In the end, they did themselves in by falling victim to the recoil of their own media tactics.

  2. Pingback: Sarah Palin On Best Political Blogs » Blog Archive » About That Palin Backstabbing…

  3. admin Post author

    1) Citation? What I find is stories like this:

    Fox.com reports that, regarding the reported Africa misconception, Palin said, “And never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or is it a continent? I just don’t know about this issue. So I don’t know how they took our one discussion on Africa and turned that into what they turned it into … Along those same lines, of course, was the criticism that supposedly I didn’t know who the participants in NAFTA were.”

    This account was recently backed up by Steve Biegun, a former Bush aid who was in charge of briefing Palin on national security issues. According to the National Review, Biegun says that there is no way that Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent, and whoever is saying she didn’t is distorting “a fumble of words.”

    2) Exactly, assuming you already think Palin is an idiot. That’s why you should discount it: because you should be aware of confirmation bias and hold off on judgment until the rumor is proven true.

  4. chrisrnps

    …and furthermore…

    “It also tells us that when a story looks too good to be true — when it perfectly confirms our pre-existing bias notions — that maybe we should treat it skeptically until we can verify it independently.”

    The fact that the story was believable is what should scare the shit out of people.

    The correct reaction in a non-fucked-beyond-belief America would have been “wait…a candidate for Vice President of the United States didn’t know that Africa wasn’t a country, but a continent containing many countries? No way. No flippin’ way that could be true. There’s just no way that could happen in the United States. Ridiculous.”

    But instead, the reaction was “Geez. That Sarah Paliin is a real piece of work. We really dodged a bullet there.”

    Says more about Palin (and McCain’s choice of her) than anything else. That the election was as close as it was speaks rather poorly of the intelligence of 47% of the population.

  5. admin Post author

    Actually, the correct response would be “No way — nobody’s that stupid. Did she really say that? Who’s claiming that she did?” And then going to look for the source to judge the veracity of the claim.

    Instead, you chose to let it confirm your bias because it was what you *wanted* to be true.

  6. Chia the Wonder Spod

    It’s awesome when people not only cling to a personal bias, but are willing to defend it in the face of evidence to the contrary.

    Good work on getting this mentioned, Mr. Lovely.

  7. errhead

    seems like an amazing amnount of coverage for unsourced snark, irregardless of it’s veracity, compared to the public statements of joe “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television” biden.

  8. chrisrnps

    “Instead, you chose to let it confirm your bias because it was what you *wanted* to be true.”

    Confirmed *my* bias?

    Who “broke” the “story”?

    Fox News Channel.

    Shorter B.L.: “Fox News was *clearly* in the tank for the Democrats.”

    And putting “Country First”, no, I did not “want” to believe that somebody who was “this close” to being a heartbeat away from the Presidency would be such an idiot that she couldn’t comment on ANY possible definition of the “Bush Doctrine”, claimed foreign policy experience based on living “near” Canada across the water from Siberia, couldn’t name a newspaper or magazine she reads, said that the Iraq war was a “mission from God”, and just couldn’t seem to help herself when it came to her habit of pathological lying – any more than I’d “want” to believe that somebody who was almost a heartbeat away from the Presidency didn’t know what Africa was.

  9. deadrose

    The way I’ve heard it from a few news sources is that his taking claim for the quote was false, not that the quote itself was false. So it’s possible that it’s somewhere between the poles instead of purely T/F.

  10. chrisrnps

    “The way I’ve heard it from a few news sources is that his taking claim for the quote was false, not that the quote itself was false. So it’s possible that it’s somewhere between the poles instead of purely T/F.”

    Look, if we start to see things with nuance and shades of grey, like adults do, where’s there going to be room to conflate “Fox News fucked up yet again” with “all Obama-voting liberals are irredeemable idiots for having the unmitigated gall to trust that reporters are fulfilling their duty to our democracy in America, as members of the Fourth Estate, by telling the American people the truth”, while screaming “liberal bias” about a report from Fox, while unironically waving a copy of the (East Coast Liberal Elite) New York *$&@ Times to prove our point?

  11. admin Post author


    An article on MediaBistro says that the Eisenstadt hoaxers did merely take credit for being Cameron’s source on Fox News, and I’ll man up and put an update at the top of this post to that effect.

    But that still doesn’t absolve Fox from giving credence to what is clearly intra-Republican backstabbing and vicious rumor-mongering. If Palin was really that stupid, you’d think that “anonymous McCain aides” would come forward and testify openly so as to prevent her from ever running for anything again. The fact that they haven’t done so, and that plenty of other people — friends and enemies — who know her from more than a couple of bad interviews (namely, the voters and politicians of Alaska) say that she’s plenty smart, suggests to me that this is, as I said, merely a vicious rumor.

    Anonymous sourcing is a first-class ticket to the sort of weasel politics we all should righteously despise, but nevertheless supposedly reputable institutions like the NYT or the Washington Post use it all too frequently against their political enemies. Shame on Fox for succumbing to the same racket.


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