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Michael Eisenstadt is a nonexistent senior fellow at the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy, a nonexistent think tank, but he has a blog and the “Institute” has a Web site and for parts of the blogosphere that’s credibility enough.
Eisenstadt is actually Eitan Gorlin, half of a team of aspiring film makers who over the course of the campaign generated loopy Web postings that, while something of a stretch had a hint of plausibility: plans to build a casino in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the assertion that Joe the Plumber was related to McCain nemesis Charles Keating, angry calls to the McCain campaign from Paris Hilton’s family.
The Harding Institute Web site is a not bad parody of a typical think tank Web site. It references a disastrous computer crash to explain its lack of depth and archives. The site currently has Eisenstadt/Gorlin complaining that a BBC interviewer had gotten him drunk, and perhaps drugged, him, leading Eisenstadt to imply that McCain had a series of trysts with attractive conservative columnist Michele Malkin.
Eisenstadt surfaced first as a purported adviser to Rudy Giuliani and then as an adviser to McCain, in which capacity he came forward to admit that he, Eisenstadt, was the source of the leak to Fox News that Sarah Palin did not know Africa was a continent.
That bit of fake news apparently appeared, if briefly, on the political blog of the L.A. Times and The New Republic and most embarrassingly on the air at MSNBC.
Hoaxes are as old as the mass media and the Internet has only made them easier. But a journalism axiom from the dark old days of the print media still applies more than ever. Newcomers to the City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary training ground for reporters, were instructed, repeatedly, “If you mother tells you she loves you — check it out.”