And now, for something completely different:
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.
So, shockingly, the story about Sarah Palin not knowing Africa was a continent was a hoax, as was its source. I wonder how many other of the nasty stories about Governor Palin supposedly coming from the McCain campaign were actually “sourced” to this fraud?
And it’s not like no one knew about this guy. But Fox News and MSNBC are just too darned kewl and fashion-forward to do old-fashioned things like, ya know, checking sources and stuff.
An MSNBC spokesman, Jeremy Gaines, explained the network’s misstep by saying someone in the newsroom received the Palin item in an e-mail message from a colleague and assumed it had been checked out. “It had not been vetted,” he said. “It should not have made air.”
But most of Eisenstadt’s victims have been bloggers, a reflection of the sloppy speed at which any tidbit, no matter how specious, can bounce around the Internet. And they fell for the fake material despite ample warnings online about Eisenstadt, including the work of one blogger who spent months chasing the illusion around cyberspace, trying to debunk it.
But the truth was out for all to see long before the big-name take-downs. For months sourcewatch.org has identified Martin Eisenstadt as a hoax. When Mr. Stein was the victim, he blogged that “there was enough info on the Web that I should have sussed this thing out.”
In the rise of the blogosphere and its growing influence on print and broadcast media, we have seen good and bad. The good? Due to the freedom of the Internet, bloggers are free to cover stories that are important to them; stories that would never make it past the filter of the corporate interests that run our media at this point in time. But the bad? Stories that were poorly sourced or made up entirely (like the story of Ashley Todd, who injured herself and claimed that an Obama supporter did it) have made it directly from the pages of The Drudge Report to CNN, with barely a pause for breath from IP to TV.
As heavily-trafficked bloggers gain more influence on the traditional media world, it is becoming incumbent upon them to thoroughly check any story they choose to spread. And the traditional media has to live up to its responsibilities as well; something which they have continuously failed to do, most egregiously during the run-up to the Iraq War, when the New York Times took the word of one unreliable source and turned it into front-page confirmations that Saddam Hussein had WMD’s and was an immediate threat to America. How’s that working out for us?
Perhaps the story of Eisenstadt, which exposes just how poorly the media are doing their jobs, will help shame them into better behavior. Who knows? But for now, I am applauding the two fellows who came up with this scam. It appears that their purpose was to show how utterly unprofessional the media and the blogosphere has become.
They say the blame lies not with them but with shoddiness in the traditional news media and especially the blogosphere.
“With the 24-hour news cycle they rush into anything they can find,” said Mr. Mirvish, 40.
Mr. Gorlin, 39, argued that Eisenstadt was no more of a joke than half the bloggers or political commentators on the Internet or television.
UPDATE: Some commenters have mentioned that Fox is now saying that the original source of the story claiming Palin did not know Africa was a continent, was not the fictional Eisenstadt. Okay, but should we take Fox’s word for it? Why? Have they named their sources? Where is the proof of their accusations?
The entire point of my post was that the process of spreading unsubstantiated rumors as if they were fact should be abandoned. That is why I am laughing at the media and the blogosphere. As long as a story fits their narrative, they will take it and run with it, whether it’s confirmed by two unimpeachable sources (as the traditional rules of journalism demand) or not. It makes them look ridiculous when the story is proven to be false or the sources are proven to be unreliable. David Shuster and MSNBC have egg on their faces this time, but in my mind, Fox is just as bad for originating the story in the first place. Prove it or STFU, Fox.
Cross-posted at The Confluence