Palin Africa/Continent Statements Prove to be a Hoax

The New York Times has investigated Fox News’s report that McCain staffers claimed that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent. As I had suspected, the story was a complete hoax.

It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

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.

One of the problems with the 24-hour news cycle is that there is a lot of pressure to just get new stories out there, which makes it easier to get stories run on less than credible evidence. In theory, the “new media” of the blogosphere is supposed to be a check on this, right? But bloggers have the same kinds of pressure to keep adding new content in order to keep visits and hits up. The result is frequently that some stories get pounced on right away. This is especially the case because a lot of times this type of story fits conveniently in with a bloggers’ bias. (Indeed, I have been guilty of this myself.)

A little skepticism is always in order.

UPDATE (James Joyner):  An AP story on this matter says, “The hoax was limited to the identity of the source in the story about Palin — not the Fox News story itself. While Palin has denied that she mistook Africa for a country, the veracity of that report was not put in question by the revelation that Eisenstadt is a phony.”

If the hoax is merely Eisenstadt having claimed to the Carl Cameron’s source — when in fact the source was an actual “McCain campaign insider” — the story is still alive.  If, contrariwise, Eisenstadt was the source of the story itself, then it’s dead.

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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.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Add confirmation bias to this.

    If the professional media don’t fact-check their own stories how, exactly, are they a better news source?

  2. Drew says:

    A hoax? I’m shocked. Shocked!!

  3. Triumph says:

    Fox is a top-notch news source, so it is clear that the idea that it is a “hoax” is the real hoax.

    In fact, Palin acknowledged that she thinks Africa is a country after the story broke.

  4. In the Yahoo version of the hoax story they go to pains to note that this in no way challenges the veracity of the original claim. So once again, we have accusations thrown out there that at least some in the media demand to be true unless they can be proven false. Ugh.

    As to this whole travesty, I call it the Faked-Out But Accurate gambit.

  5. James Joyner says:

    As to this whole travesty, I call it the Faked-Out But Accurate gambit.

    If I’m understanding correctly, Eisenstadt’s hoax wasn’t planting the Palin story but claiming to the the unidentified source for an already reported story.

  6. Steve says:

    I can’t believe how many people are misreading this story. (Which makes me wonder if it was a deliberate strategy to mitigate the damage to Palin.)

    This article DOES NOT say that the Palin/Africa story is a hoax.

    The hoax is that after the story was released some guy claimed to be the source of the story. He was not the source. That’s the hoax.

    This does not in any way debunkt he Palin/Africa story.

  7. Triumph says:

    While Palin has denied that she mistook Africa for a country,

    Palin never denied this, J-Dawg:

    “I think if there are allegations based on questions or comments that I made in debate prep about NAFTA or about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there, then those were taken out of context, and that is cruel and mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks,”

    [ http://www.reuters.com/article/joeBiden/idUSTRE4A708D20081108 ]

    She verifies the Fox story’s claim by making a distinction between “the continent versus the country,” thus indicating that she thinks there exists some country called “Africa.”

    Fox is fair, balanced, and correct.

  8. The AP story James references is the same one I saw from Yahoo. Well, my original complaint stands. This is no different than the questions about Wasilla rape kits and Trig’s maternity. Mr. or Ms. Anonymous gets to fling some feces against the wall and see if it sticks. Those inclined to want to believe it vehemently do so.

    The technique is abominable and those that use it need to be called out for the fools or tools they are.

  9. Steve says:

    Triumph,

    Thank you for pointing out that not only did she NOT deny it, but her comments since the story broke suggests that she may still not understand things correctly.

  10. Houston says:

    The technique is abominable and those that use it need to be called out for the fools or tools they are.

    You mean posters like Triumph and Steve?

  11. Steve says:

    Houston,

    Is that your response to someone correcting the record? Call them a fool?

    How old are you? Grow up.

  12. PrestoPundit says:

    Tree stump.

  13. John425 says:

    Funny how my so-called “fellow conservatives” seem bent on bashing Governor Palin for something that is undoubtedly a hoax and degenerate into parsing the story for whatever slime they can milk out of it.

  14. Houston says:

    Is that your response to someone correcting the record? Call them a fool?

    How old are you? Grow up.

    My age is irrelevant. The allegations about Africa and NAFTA are laughable and dismissive. A previous poster said anyone who would believe these ridiculous claims is either a “fool or a tool.”

    As if to prove his point, you immediately posted that you clearly believe that Palin “still may not understand things correctly.”

    This puts in one group or the other. Perhaps you could clarify for us which.

  15. Drew says:

    “thus indicating that she thinks there exists some country called “Africa.” ”

    Right. If you really believe that, then Houston should re-phrase his/her question: “Do you go by Moe, Larry or Curly?”

  16. Triumph says:

    Right. If you really believe that, then Houston should re-phrase his/her question: “Do you go by Moe, Larry or Curly?”

    Listen, dude. I’m just going by what the lady said she was talking “about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there.”

    If you can somehow read Palin’s mind, please tell use what she meant.

  17. Drew says:

    Hey, doood………

    You are absolutely right. She’s running around right now clueless as to whether Africa is a country or a continent. That makes complete and total sense. What was I thinking? Poor girl…

    You jest keep tellin’ yerself that……..Moe

  18. Jim Treacher says:

    Chris Matthews called it a country too. It couldn’t have been a slip of the tongue.

    Also, FDR went on TV after the stock market crash of ’29. I know this because our new Vice President said so.

  19. Hey, and my map only has 50 states. What’s up with that?

  20. Alex Knapp says:

    Hey, and my map only has 50 states. What’s up with that?

    In fairness to Obama, while there are 50 states, there were also 57 Democratic primaries. Easy slip of the tongue there, since he was almost certainly thinking of the primary race in terms of total number of contests.

  21. That’s exactly the point Alex. Senator Obama gets the benefit of the doubt while Governor Palin is a hopeless moron.

  22. Drew says:

    Alex observes:

    “In fairness to Obama, while there are 50 states, there were also 57 Democratic primaries. Easy slip of the tongue there, since he was almost certainly thinking of the primary race in terms of total number of contests.”

    The sort of “top of mind” error anyone could easily make, right? Just sort of slipped out because of his mental focus at that particular moment. I understand.

    Speaking of “top of mind” errors….I’m sure his reference to “my Muslim faith” in his interview with Georgie Stepho had absolutely nothing to do with what was “top of mind.” Right?

    Relax, Pavlovians………its a wisecrack.

  23. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    I don’t think that Sarah Palin is a moron. I just think that she didn’t have a very good knowledge base from which to launch a vice-presidential run.

    Frankly, had her national debut come in 2016, when she’d finished her term as governor, then spent some time in the Senate (where I’ve no doubt she will end up), she would have acquitted herself well in these interviews. As it stands, though, her interview performance went beyond a few verbal flubs and into downright incoherence. She simply wasn’t ready yet to play the game on a national level. Not for lack of smarts, but merely a lack of preparedness.

    However, as I have said here and elsewhere, I think that she has a pretty lousy record from a conservative point of view, and so I am baffled that conservatives seem to be so crazy about her.

  24. tom p says:

    Tree stump.

    PP… indeed.

    And what AK said.

  25. tom p says:

    PS: the English language… it’s a bitch… we could all do better in using it. I had to read the original article 3 times before I knew for sure that the “hoax” was limited only to the leaker.

  26. Alex, true, and I did not mean to imply that you thought she was a a moron. My apologies if that’s how it came out. Alas, the urge by many to call her a moron because of what was probably a mangled phrase (and we still don’t know exactly what was said) when they wouldn’t dream of doing the same to Senator Obama was all I was trying to highlight. You just helped me do so.

    As to Sarah Palin’s interview problems, now that the campaign handlers are out of the picture she doesn’t seem to be having the same problems at all with a great deal of exposure. Coincidence? Sometimes too much information and too much control can make someone appear to be something they are not.

    I guess I’m not a conservative if that’s what David Brooks is. I think I am a classical liberal, but the word liberal now has a meaning 180 degrees out of phase with the old definition. To whatever extent I like Sarah Palin it has to do with her being almost the complete opposite of what John McCain and Barrack Obama are in many respects. I don’t have to think that Sarah Palin was a great candidate to believe we would have been better off with her than with any of senators McCain, Obama or Biden, but YMMV.

  27. PD Shaw says:

    I believe Bill Kristol reported on Fox News Sunday that she was working on responses to questions about the ticket’s policies on Africa. In what such approach, she said something to the effect of “Look, Africa is a country with a lot of problems, but . . .”

    If that’s the true context, it strikes me as a mangled phrase in league with whether Israel is next door to Iran or there is more than one President on a dollar bill.

    Was she ever asked about Africa in any debate? Is that a more significant problem?

  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    PDS, lol, they hate her more then Bush, unbelievable.

  29. odograph says:

    I haven’t commented on this because I think it is boring and unknowable … but reading it over I can’t believe the number of people on both sides of the issue who think they know, really know, Sara Palin.

    You don’t. Not enough to say she’s dumb, and not enough to say she’s smart. Unless one of you is Todd or something 😉

  30. Maybe, just maybe I think Alaskan’s are smarter than you give them credit for, i.e. that they wouldn’t elect and overwhelmingly approve of someone as governor who isn’t reasonably capable. Or maybe I take the word of people like Camille Paglia or Lorne Michaels who have no reason to say they are impressed with her other than that they don’t suffer from PDS.

    Now, where did I claim that I know her at all?

  31. Alex Knapp says:

    I guess I’m not a conservative if that’s what David Brooks is. I think I am a classical liberal, but the word liberal now has a meaning 180 degrees out of phase with the old definition. To whatever extent I like Sarah Palin it has to do with her being almost the complete opposite of what John McCain and Barrack Obama are in many respects.

    But in what way? If you look at her record, she’s no classical liberal. The town of Wasilla had to hire a City Manager because she wasn’t doing the work she was supposed to be doing–this in a town too small to have a Fire Department, mind you. I just don’t get it. Her years as Mayor left Wasilla in debt and with a boondoggle of a sports complex that she didn’t get proper title for the land for. Her legacy as governor in her less than 2 years of service is a ballooning budget and oil taxes so high that the major oil companies ended up CANCELLING drilling projects there. The pipeline she’s so proud of commits millions of dollars of state money to TransCanada EVEN IF THE PIPELINE DOESN’T GET BUILT.

    What’s good about her record? Almost nothing, as far as I can tell. She blew the whistle on some corruption, but only when it was politically convenient for her. Just as political convenience didn’t stop her from working to re-elect Ted Stevens.

  32. davod says:

    Alex:

    Keep it up. At this rate you might even convince some of us by the 2016 elections. Especially if Palin is re-elected Governor, and construction has been completed on the pipeline.

  33. Alex Knapp says:

    Davod,

    The scheduled completion date for the TransCanada pipeline is 2018. That’s assuming they get Federal approval, which they don’t have yet. (Of course, if they don’t get it, they still get millions of dollars from the Alaskan government, so I don’t know if they’re in a hurry.) Federal approval may not be forthcoming, as the TransCanada proposal provides that the U.S. government guarantee revenues if initial gas production does not meet expectations–a guarantee that might be in the billions. Additionally, TransCanada has yet to sign any contracts with natural gas producers to actually have something to transport on the line. Right now this is shaping up to be quite the boondoggle.