Political Hoaxes For Dummies

Probably because it didn't involve balloons, yesterday's hoax---in which several major media organizations, including Reuters, were duped into reporting that the Chamber of Commerce had suddenly embraced climate-change legislation--didn't get wall-to-wall cable coverage. But the stunt, perpetrated by a group of activists called the Yes Men, marked the latest in what seems to be a growing number of successful political hoaxes. First, hats off to the Yes Men for pulling it off. But I'm surprised that anyone fell for their bogus press release, since even a quick scan sends up all sorts of red flags. For example, the press release described the move as "an about-face on climate policy for the Chamber." As even the lowliest PR lackey is aware, press releases must always present even blatant shifts in policy as seamlessly following from whatever the organization was doing previously--the last thing any organization does in making an about-face is to describe what its doing as "an about-face." So dock some points for presentation.

For my money, the best political hoax of the year goes to the fictitious John McCain aide Martin Eisenstadt, who posed as a sleazy Republican operative and duped the media for quite some time into believing all kinds of hilariously awful things about Sarah Palin and the McCain campaign. "Martin Eisenstadt" turned out to be the creation of two filmmakers, Dan Mirvish and Eitan Gorlin, who must be pleased by the timing of the Yes Men stunt, since it should help call attention to the fact that Martin Eisenstadt has now written a book about his exploits that'll be published next Tuesday. The book's shtick is that Martin Eisenstadt won't cop to being a hoax, and instead dishes all sorts of "secrets" about the McCain campaign and pretty much everyone else. It's pretty good stuff, mainly because Mirvish and Gorlin are so good on the tiny details of Washington politics--they'd have written a more convincing press release, that's for sure. Anyone wanting to learn more about their book can read my review in the new issue of the Washington Monthly. A snippet here:

The 2008 presidential election will be remembered for a lot of things, but moments of levity aren't one of them. The highlight may have come in the days just after Obama's victory, when bitter McCain staffers launched a torrent of anonymous criticism at Sarah Palin that painted her as selfish, venal, arrogant, and, above all, criminally stupid. For many of us, what erased the last shred of doubt about Palin--what seared in our cerebral cortex the unshakable conviction that Tina Fey was channeling the real person--was a Fox News report in which anonymous McCain staffers revealed that Palin had thought Africa was a country.

Not long afterward, a McCain staffer named Martin Eisenstadt came forward to take responsibility for leaking the Africa stuff. At first blush, Eisenstadt seemed exactly the sort you'd expect to cruelly betray his candidate: a vaguely familiar, middle-tier neocon hack affiliated with an outfit called the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy--a guy whose natural place in the universe is on the third block of Hardball, his command of the latest GOP talking points and lapel-pin flag both obnoxiously on display. That was enough for MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times, and a host of  other media outlets to run with the story that the culprit had been found...
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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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