Nah….everyone knows that.

But here’s a prime example.

Been hearing all the ‘juicy’ rumors about Sarah Palin lately, about
her ignorance of basic geography and all that bunk coming from a
supposed insider from the now-disassembled McCain campaign? The insider
has now been identified…..sort of.

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.

And the claim of credit for the Africa anecdote is just the latest
ruse by Eisenstadt, who turns out to be a very elaborate hoax that has
been going on for months. MSNBC, which quickly corrected the mistake,
has plenty of company in being taken in by an Eisenstadt hoax,
including The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times.

The New York Times is happy to bring you this news, no doubt. But
kudos to them for reporting it. And doing a good job of it, no less.

Now a pair of obscure filmmakers say they created Martin
Eisenstadt to help them pitch a TV show based on the character. But
under the circumstances, why should anyone believe a word they say?

“That’s a really good question,” one of the two, Eitan Gorlin, said with a laugh.

(For what it’s worth, another reporter for The New York Times is an
acquaintance of Mr. Gorlin and vouches for his identity, and Mr. Gorlin
is indeed “Mr. Eisenstadt” in those videos. He and his partner in
deception, Dan Mirvish, have entries on the Internet Movie Database,
imdb.com. But still. …)

This is no joke. If anything, it’s the perfect illustration of how the media ‘report’ the ‘news’.

Right down to the lack of accountability…

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.

Surely he uses the figure “half” loosely. It’s got to be more. Way more.

Now, get this:

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.”

Look, folks, at how the newsrooms of some major media work. Or don’t.

This is what happens when our institutions such as government and
‘professional’ media are mingled so much with the pop culture, the
lines are blurred.

Here’s how this hoax worked:

Eisenstadt became an adviser to Senator John McCain and
got a blog, updated occasionally with comments claiming insider
knowledge, and other bloggers began quoting and linking to it. It mixed
weird-but-true items with false ones that were plausible, if just
barely.

The inventors fabricated the Harding Institute, named for one of the
most scorned presidents, and made Eisenstadt a senior fellow…

Before long Mr. Gorlin and Mr. Mirvish had produced a short
documentary on Martin Eisenstadt, supposedly for the BBC, posted in
several parts on YouTube.

In June they produced what appeared to be an interview with
Eisenstadt on Iraqi television promoting construction of a casino in
the Green Zone in Baghdad. Then they sent out a news release in which
he apologized. Outraged Iraqi bloggers protested the casino idea.

Who fell for it?

In July, after the McCain campaign compared Senator
Barack Obama to Paris Hilton, the Eisenstadt blog said “the phone was
burning off the hook” at McCain headquarters, with angry calls from Ms.
Hilton’s grandfather and others. A Los Angeles Times political blog,
among others, retold the story, citing Eisenstadt by name and linking
to his blog.

And on and on it goes.

At the end of the day, who knows whether this story is even true…or just another big hoax.

A responsible journalist friend of mine forwarded this story. “Says
a lot about the power of the media”, she noted. Thanks, Joyce, for
being on top of what they’re doing to our profession.

When I was a ’cub’ reporter back in the day, a veteran told me one
of the tenets of politics and journalism was that ‘the appearance of an
impropriety is itself an impropriety’. Same holds true for the
appearance of a meltdown.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....