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Diane Tucker

Diane Tucker

Posted: November 25, 2008 11:15 AM

Don't Get Fooled Again: How To Spot An Internet Hoax


"Sarah Palin is so dumb, she doesn't know Africa is a continent!" This remark slipped out of the mouth of McCain policy adviser Martin Eisenstadt, said MSNBC anchor David Shuster on Nov 10. But today we know there's no such person as Martin Eisenstadt. He was just a hoax perpetrated by two pranksters named Eitan Gorlin and Dan Mirvish. The truth was established way back in June, thanks to good sleuthing by blogger William K. Wolfrum.

Wait... back in June? Then how come MSNBC, The New Republic, and The Los Angeles Times all fell for the hoax just two weeks ago? Maybe it's time for the mainstream media to take a remedial source-checking class. And who better to lead it than Wolfrum --

Did you suspect Eisenstadt was a hoax from the get-go?

William K. Wolfrum: Don't I wish. I was suckered into reporting a story about a right-winger named Michael Eisenstadt who was engaged in gay and "tranny" bashing. I have a bad tendency of rarely writing about stories sent to me via email, so I went with it.

When did blogger's remorse set in?

Almost immediately. A Google search of "Michael Eisenstadt" brought up two people: an impressive foreign policy expert who works for the Washington Institute, and a crazy neocon with a bio suspiciously similar to the real Eisenstadt's resume.

Did you push the panic button?

I made phone calls. This is important: don't let being a "blogger" dissuade you from contacting people. I left a message with the real Michael Eisenstadt, who called me back promptly. It became clear he had nothing to do with the Africa story. I also called the Washington Post, who said they had no reason to believe the real Michael Eisenstadt was currently working with the McCain Campaign.

You could have simply deleted this story from your archives. Instead, you played "Javert to Eisenstadt's Valjean," as the New York Times poetically put it.

A vast and deceptive sock-puppet show was under way, although "Team Eisenstadt" wasn't being very careful. They used the same aliases over and over to post comments on popular liberal blogs like Huffington Post and Crooks & Liars, and at newspapers like The Wall Street Journal-- all to create the false illusion of a McCain staffer named Eisenstadt. The lesson here: you should Google screen names. You'll be surprised what turns up.

How else did you run Eisenstadt to ground?

I looked up the IP address of websites associated with the fake Eisenstadt, like The Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy, where he is a so-called senior fellow. Eisenstadtgroup.com and hardinginstitute.org share the same IP address, which is telling. Even the name "Harding" provided a clue: Warren G. Harding was a third-rate president...his think tank would have been a joke.

"Team Eisenstadt" knew you were on to them last summer. Why did they persist?

Who knows? Boredom? When Eisenstadt first contacted me, he used the name Michael. To distance himself from my hoax warnings, he changed his first name to M. Thomas, and then finally to Martin.

When did you become convinced Eisenstadt was the viral blogger Abrad2345?

Eisenstadt put a video of himself on YouTube. Here is Eisenstadt. Here is Abrad2345. Obviously they're the same guy. In the blogosphere, many people already knew that Abrad2345 is Eitan Gorlin, an obscure filmmaker with a creative partner named Dan Mirvish.

Gorlin and Mirvish said they're not to blame. The blame lies with the shoddiness of the 24-hour news media, especially the blogosphere.

It's easy to blame the blogosphere, but MSNBC broke the story and they deserve the criticism. As Salon.com pointed out, it was a blogger who uncovered the hoax months ago. If MSNBC, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Republic had bothered to Google the name "Martin Eisenstadt," the third entry to come up would have been my post calling him out as a hoax.

Why didn't the McCain Campaign simply tell the media, "Our staff doesn't include a foreign policy adviser named Eisenstadt?"

When they call me back, I'll let you know. I've called them at least three times.

Are Gorlin and Mirvish still at it?

They were working on a character named Marnie Vander Helsing, but I discovered it before the hoax really took off, so they dropped her.

I almost hate to ask, but here goes...does Sarah Palin know that Africa is a continent?

Beats me. All I know is that Martin Eisenstadt did not leak the story. So who did?

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