Faking the news

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.”


  1. raedawn

    Very well stated, Dale. I was disconcerted and appalled by some of the outright lies, the taking words out of context, and the using obfuscating fear tactics as a road to high public office. I know this stuff goes on, but, even as I watch, hear, or read these lies, my red flag goes up, and my brain, after saying, how do they possibly think they can get away with that, goes into “tilt” mode, and temporarily shuts down. I find it very distressing and dangerous that there are large audiences of people who will actually and automatically believe these lies and obfuscations and act upon them.

    I was never a reporter, but in my field of nonprofit administration I did write and put out a lot of information. Nothing ever went out without having all facts verified, and, additionally, being proof read by at least two people other than the writer (me). My ego was not attached to any outcome save that the outreach and activism of what ever group I worked with was consistently growing and expanding. And it always did. It was not rocket science, but a big dose of self skepticism, common sense and belief in the integrity of the potential audience(s)/activists.

    It really is too bad, and potentially dangerous to our democracy, that individuals within our political system will swallow some of this whole and then use it to fuel their own zeal and actions. And the sad fact that is has become a truism … if even a mistake is made, that is reported and turns out to be incorrect, it may have been a front page story, but the correction or retraction gets buried further along inside the paper.

    However, I am not willing to let go my hope, and apparently, if the election results are any reflection, let go my basic trust in the system. ~ Linda in Lowell, MA

  2. ckaye99

    Oh, c’mon now, couldn’t you tell by the spreading smile on your face that this guy was a hoaxter? I especially like the Michelle Malkin thing – anyone who has been watching that girl for any amount of time could guess that she has probably never even ———–, let alone dated a male! She probably thinks that is a “democratic” thing! Uh, I’m from Chicago – maybe that is why this guy was obvious baloney to me. :)

  3. Hoosier_CowBoy

    Eitan Gorlin is actually just a man ahead of his time. He has received an epiphany, that in fact anything actually purporting to be news of factual information is suspect and is probably an outright lie.

    After 8 years of an Administration that believed it could “create our own reality”, Eitan Gorlin has merely taken up the mantle of the new ethic.

    A new word needs to be coined: ROTAMEND

    Rotamend: noun, a combination of spin and mendacity (outright lying) presented as valid information in the Mass Media.

    Welcome to the New World.

    In Lyon County, Nevada at a Casino in the county seat, a contest is held on April Fools Day to determine who has come up with the most believable lie. All the contestants really need to do is turn on the TV.

  4. RichardKanePA

    Yes, she never said Africa was country. At first she refused McCain’s request to redbait, but when she agreed to go along she didn’t know how to be sable about it.

    Every time people criticize her, others feel insulted because hundred of thousands people felt the sting of being accused of being backward, ignorant or dim witted, and hearing others condemn her made them come to her defense. Now she is urging people to get together on the economy.

    Come on everyone we already had one president who admits he doesn’t read much there is no way we are going to get another even if they try to keep it a secret unlike Bush. Leave Palin alone.

    Come on everyone we already had one president who admits he doesn’t read much there is no way we are going to get another even if they try to keep it a secret unlike Bush. Leave Palin alone.

    The election is over. The only thing that needs to be shrilly stuck to is trying to prevent Leiberman from having a finger on foreign policy.

    Maybe hundreds of thousands can threaten to change their registration to Green or Libertarian, if Leiberman keeps a finger on foreign policy.