ABOUT THAT EISENSTADT HOAX…. This story is getting lots of attention today, but I’m not sure it says what many seem to think it says.

It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

Who would say such a thing? 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 assumption seems to be that this shows that Palin was never actually confused about Africa being a continent, and that the whole story was just a hoax. But that’s not what this article actually says.

An MSNBC report credited Martin Eisenstadt, who doesn’t exist, as the original source of the Palin/Africa claim. The hoax, however, is the bogus source validating the story, not the Palin/Africa story itself.

The original reporting on the Palin/Africa story came from Fox News’ Carl Cameron, who reported last week on the McCain campaign’s apparent frustration with Palin’s ignorance. Cameron cited campaign aides as his source. Later, Palin said her comments about Africa had been “taken out of context.”

The New York Times story about the Eisenstadt hoax doesn’t mention Cameron’s original reporting at all, and as far as I can tell, Cameron has not retracted his story.

Some are understandably skeptical about whether Palin really could have been confused about whether Africa is a continent, but barring additional revelations, the story is not a hoax and there’s no reason to think “Eisenstadt” was the source of the story. The problem here is with MSNBC crediting a bogus person, not the original reporting itself.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.