Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mental Note: Don't Forget the Grain of Salt

It seemed like the only thing missing from this year's election was something to humble the media and the bloggers. That need has now been filled by a fake expert from a phony think tank.

The New York Times has the story -- A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence -- about a counterfeit McCain advisor from an invented institute who cast fictions into the political waters and reeled in bloggers and media alike.

Remember the story about Sarah Palin not knowing that Africa is a continent and not a country? Almost believable... Seems in character.... Matches our shared experience of Mrs. Palin's qualifications... but not true.

The "source" for that story was a Martin Eisenstadt, of the Harding Institute, supposedly an advisor to the McCain campaign.
...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.
Eisenstadt is really Eitan Gorlin, who created the character along with Dan Mirvish as part of a long-term hoax intended as a promotional stunt to develop a television show. According to the Times, they have fooled several newspapers, TV networks and many bloggers, even after some of those who had been fooled published warnings about the hoax.

The lesson we take from this is to not believe everything that we see, or hear, or read even when it is "on the news" or "in the paper." And, in the hyper-news-sensitive environment we find ourselves, in a time when anyone with a laptop, an ISP, and rudimentary spelling skills can become a part of the new media, caution is even more important.

On the other hand, Mrs. Palin's response to the fake story (prior our learning that it was a hoax), was almost as interesting. Here's what she told Greta Van Susteren, as quoted on ABC's Political radar blog:

I don't know, because I remember the discussion about Africa, my concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue, as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska's investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars, I wanted to make sure that that didn't happen anymore.

Wait... what?

I'm also tickled by the hoaxers' explanation of how they came up with the fake advisor character's name:

Mr. Gorlin said they chose the name because “all the neocons in the Bush administration had Jewish last names and Christian first names.”

And for the Institute? They named it after one of the least popular presidents in US history. That seemed believable.

1 comment:

punchnrun said...

Mike, I think you misunderstood the nature of the spoof. The story about Palin thinking not knowing Africa is a continent and not a country was merely the background for the hoax. That story was reported by Fox. MSNBC was the victim of the hoax, when it reported that Mark Eisenstadt was a McCain campaign adviser and had confirmed that he was the source of the story. The truth is that there is no Mark Eisenstadt, he is a character dreamed up by Eitan Gorlin and his partner, Dan Mirvish.

Where Fox got the story on Mrs. Palin and it's veracity is another matter entirely. So again, be careful about what you see on the internet, and read everything carefully.


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