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.
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. â€œTurns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,â€ Mr. Shuster said.
Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesnâ€™t exist. His blog does, but itâ€™s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow â€” the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy â€” 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?
â€œThatâ€™s a really good question,â€ 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.”