In a recent BBC interview, Sarah Palin claimed that "Rumors like I didn't know Africa was a continent, that's still out there, that's a lie." But this appears to contradict her own videotaped comments to CNN just days after Fox News' Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron reported that she "didn't understand Africa was a continent." In what might be considered by Washington parlance to be a classic "non-denial denial" Palin doesn't deny getting confused about Africa, but rather takes umbrage with the jerks who told people she was confused.
If Palin had simply left it as "it was a slip of the tongue taken out of context" it might have blown over. But first in her book Going Rogue and now in the BBC interview, she overreaches by calling the "rumor" a "lie." On the contrary, it was never a "rumor," but rather a "leak" from multiple anonymous sources in the McCain campaign that was reported by a well-respected journalist who works for the company that now pays Palin's bills. Carl Cameron and Fox News have to this day never retracted their story. Even a self-proclaimed Palin supporter like the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti begrudgingly confirmed the Africa story in his book The Persecution of Sarah Palin.
My writing partner, Eitan Gorlin, and I probably share some of the blame in enabling Palin to perpetuate the myth that she never misspoke about Africa. On November 12, 2008, MSNBC's David Shuster reported "breaking news" that our satirical pundit character Martin Eisenstadt was taking credit as the source of the Fox News anonymous leak. MSNBC was too quick to out a Fox source that they neglected to do a simple Google search that would have indicated that Eisenstadt did not exist. Gorlin and I then "outed" ourselves as the creators of Eisenstadt to the New York Times three days later. While the Times story and the subsequent Associated Press story that ran around the world both stated that our ruse was only for the "claim of credit" for the Africa story, and not for the original Fox leak itself, many people misread those stories. Headlines, synopses, and tags frequently conflated the terms "Palin" "Africa" and "hoax." Yes, it got confusing. Yes, the Times story could have been clearer. And subsequent articles in The Washington Post and elsewhere definitely should have made the distinction. But even after all this, the Chicago-Tribune clarified:
A Fox News spokeswoman tells me that the channel stands by Cameron's report that people associated with the McCain campaign told Fox News that Palin didn't know Africa was a continent. Cameron never said his source was the hoaxer in the Times story, she said. A journalist colleague has also told me he overheard Cameron say during the campaign that McCain campaign insiders were telling him that Palin wasn't as knowledgeable as one might expect, to put it politely. So, in other words, the hoax in question was on MSNBC, not Fox.
To this day, some Palin supporters conveniently attribute the entire Africa leak to Martin Eisenstadt. Just two weeks ago, Yahoo News ran a story by conservative Mark Whittington in which he asserted that Eisenstadt was the source of the original leak to Fox News. To this date, nobody except for Carl Cameron and his sources know exactly who told him the Africa leak. Maybe it was Steve Schmidt or Mark Salter or Nicolle Wallace or one of a dozen other disgruntled McCain advisers. I certainly don't know. And frankly, Palin may well have been right in her original assessment that they were cowardly unprofessional jerks for anonymously leaking her verbal miscues. But that doesn't make them liars. The two are not mutually exclusive, and that's a big distinction.
The bigger issue is that in a time when North Africa and the Middle East are erupting in civil war and revolution, geography matters. Having a fluency and fluidity to talk about Africa, in particular, matters. And as Palin makes noises about running for president, what she says -- and how she obfuscates what she says -- should also matter. Libya is exactly 180 degrees on the other side of the globe from Alaska. Just because Sarah Palin can't see it from her front porch doesn't mean it isn't there.