A Little Too Much Credulity

In the clip from Fox News about staff infighting that’s embedded in James’ post below, a lot of people around the blogosphere are making hay of the fact that the report claims that Sarah Palin did not realize that Africa was a continent, not a country.

To which I say: do you really believe that? Really?

Look, I think it’s clear that Sarah Palin didn’t evince much interest in foreign affairs or have a deep knowledge base regarding it. Which was one of my problems with her selection as a VP nominee. But c’mon. Do you really expect me to believe that she didn’t know fifth grade geography? I’m pretty sure you’d have to actually play me a clip of her making that mistake before I actually believed it.

Now, I don’t expect a lot of journalistic know-how from Fox News, but surely somebody around there asked a question about this? It’s just ridiculous. A lot of skepticism is in order here.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Campaign 2008, , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Anthony says:

    “To which I say: do you really believe that? Really?”

    No, I don’t. And I say this even though, were I an American citizen, I’d be one of RedState’s “lepers”.

    I know pre-schoolers who know Africa’s a continent. Not knowing wouldn’t make Palin ignorant and intellectually incurious, it’d make her educationally subnormal. I just don’t buy it.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I tend to agree, Alex, although, having taught Intro to IR to undergraduates, I’ve encountered my than my share of students who didn’t know Africa wasn’t a country.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    I’ve encountered my than my share of students who didn’t know Africa wasn’t a country.

    That is horrifying. Don’t people read books anymore?

  4. Hoodlumman says:

    Our education system is failing. That’s one reason for students not knowing basic geology.

    Alex, I don’t agree with you often, but you’re spot on here.

    I just don’t buy that Palin, knowing she’s pretty shrew and smart politically to do what she’s done in Alaska, is an abject moron.

    I don’t buy it. I think McCain aids are burning her to protect their own incompetence.

  5. Cernig says:

    Palin a “pretty shrew”.

    That may be Freudian slip of the week

  6. Drew says:


    Although the way our school system is going, I suspect I would want to avert my eyes at a survey of high school students asked to find Africa on a global map.

  7. Anderson says:

    Surely she picked that fact up at one of her six colleges.

  8. I have to second James’ experience–I have had undergraduates who have referred to Africa as a country, not a continent–usually with a bit of prodding they know that that is not the case. While I doubt that she actually thought Africa was a country, I can believe that in a given conversation she might have conflated the two concepts. She is often inarticulate when discussing matters outside her comfort zone. In all honesty, Americans are fairly ignorant about Africa.

    I do fully believe, however, that she didn’t know the NAFTA countries.

  9. Patrick says:

    Doesn’t Jay Leno make comedy based on mistakes like this?

    I doubt that this is true, but I would not be surprised if it were.

  10. Thank you Alex. Working through the list temporally, I found this only after leaving a similar comment on a thread that came later.

    As I wrote there, the need to destroy Sarah Palin, who threatens the Republican Establishment as much as the Democrats, is very strong indeed.

  11. Houston says:

    Our education system is failing. That’s one reason for students not knowing basic geology.

    Geography either.

    Vocabulary either.

  12. rodney dill says:

    I’m sure she was overloaded with information during prep sessions during the campaign. After all, she wasn’t planning for years to burst onto the national stage. I see this as largely detractors in her own party, who don’t want to deal with her in the future, trying to permanently poison her political career at a national level.

  13. Nancy Irving says:

    “…not knowing basic geology…she’s pretty shrew and smart…” ROTFLMAO. You tell ’em!

    But seriously, the story went that she not only referred to Africa as a country–and note that even in DENYING this story she referred again to “the country” of Africa–but also thought that “South Africa” was just a region of Africa rather than a nation–i.e. she thought it was like western Europe or northern California.

    Consider that Palin would have been approximately thirty years old when Nelson Mandela took office as president of South Africa; the fight against apartheid had then been going on for years, and more pertinently it had been front-page news for years.

    Anyone who was an adult at that time, and who had any interest at all in public affairs, would have been aware that South Africa was a nation. The only way to square her not knowing that (if indeed she did not know it) is to posit an extreme uninterest on her part, as an adult, in the kind of information we expect our leaders to be interested in.

    We are not talking about a lack of “experience,” but rather a lack of even high-school-level knowledge of public affairs.

    You can learn, but only if you want to learn–if you are interested in the subject. Palin is not interested in the subject. Indeed, the story goes that campaign aides could not even get her to pay attention to her prepping for the Couric interview, even though Palin must have known that much depended on her performance.

    Palin is not a serious person. She is someone who wants to be on television, like millions of other Americans. That is not enough to lead a nation.

  14. Nancy Irving says:

    P.S. To use one of Palin’s favorite words, ALSO (too!): This doesn’t mean she’s stupid.

    I have a sister who’s pretty smart, a professor of philosophy at a prestigious Canadian university. She is however an extreme narcissist whose attitude towards the world is so solipsistic that she learns and knows nothing outside her own quite narrow slice of her discipline, or that practical or personal knowledge that can otherwise advance her career. At family gatherings, her ignorance of what is happening in the world is the subject of incredulity and laughter.

    Again (too!) she’s quite smart; but again (too!) not qualified for election to public office, never mind VP or POTUS.