UPDATE: The New York Times has identified the man behind the elaborate hoax as Eitan Gorlin, a filmmaker who says he planned to pitch a TV show based on the character.
A former campaign adviser to John McCain named Martin Eisenstadt has outed himself as the proud source of the "Sarah Palin doesn't know Africa is a continent" story. The New Republic and MSNBC have picked up the Eisenstadt scoop.
But it's not at all clear that Eisenstadt exists. William K. Wolfrum of Shakespeare's Sister, who was suckered by Eisenstadt during the campaign, did some digging and concluded, "There is no M. Thomas Eisenstadt. There is no Eisenstadt Group. There is no Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy. M. Thomas Eisenstadt is a hoax."
To be clear, none of this means the Africa story is false -- just that it didn't come from this source. Huffington Post has been told on background that Martin Eisenstadt was not one of Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron's sources.
Jonathan Stein at Mother Jones writes of being tricked by Eisenstadt on another scandal:
A few hours ago, we (okay, I) posted a blog about a man claiming to be a McCain adviser who made ridiculous comments on Iraqi television about building a casino in the Baghdad Green Zone. In addition to the inherent absurdity of it, there was a lot of arrogance, cultural insensitivity, and racism thrown in. Other blogs had posted on the guy, and when I checked him out before posting I found his blog and a foreign policy institute claiming his employ. Turns out the blog and institute, like the adviser, were an elaborate hoax. It didn't help that the guy, in creating his fictional foreign policy expert, closely mimicked the name of a real foreign policy expert.
Here's why I got taken: I received an emailed press release reporting that the supposed McCain adviser had apologized for his comments about the casino. You're welcome to disagree with me, but I had no reason to believe that someone would invent a persona, a blog, a foreign policy institution, a video with a fake Iraqi television station, a press release, and an organization or email entity to send out said press release.
But frankly, there was enough info on the web that I should have sussed this thing out. This is a long way of saying I apologize and that I'm more than a little ashamed. I've taken the post down. Kudos to the inventor of this whole thing. My only consolation is that if I had as much time on my hands as he clearly does, I probably would have figured this out and saved myself a fair amount of embarrassment.
Even if he did exist, Eisenstadt doesn't appear to have been high up enough in the McCain campaign to be privy to Sarah Palin's private utterances. According to his own bio, his role in the campaign was "offering advice and liaising with the Jewish community in particular."
The New Republic has retracted its blog post; MSNBC's David Shuster very quickly admitted that "there may be some indications" the story was made up.