The fine art of political hoaxes

THE FINE ART OF POLITICAL HOAXES…. The activists known as The Yes Men pulled off quite a hoax yesterday. It didn’t generate quite as much interest as that balloon kid last week, but yesterday’s hoax nevertheless fooled some major media outlets — CNBC and Reuters, for example — to run reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had changed its mind on climate-change legislation.

Joshua Green, a senior editor at the Atlantic and a contributing editor for the Washington Monthly, explained that as good as yesterday’s stunt was, the best political hoax in recent memory was Martin Eisenstadt, a fake John McCain aide who fooled all kinds of major news outlets. As Green noted today, “‘Martin Eisenstadt’ turned out to be the creation of two filmmakers, Dan Mirvish and Eitan Gorlin, who must be pleased by the timing of the Yes Men stunt, since it should help call attention to the fact that Martin Eisenstadt has now written a book about his exploits that’ll be published next Tuesday.”

Green reviewed the book, “I Am Martin Eisenstadt: One Man’s (Wildly Inappropriate) Adventures with the Last Republicans,” in the latest issue of the Monthly.

The 2008 presidential election will be remembered for a lot of things, but moments of levity aren’t one of them. The highlight may have come in the days just after Obama’s victory, when bitter McCain staffers launched a torrent of anonymous criticism at Sarah Palin that painted her as selfish, venal, arrogant, and, above all, criminally stupid. For many of us, what erased the last shred of doubt about Palin — what seared in our cerebral cortex the unshakable conviction that Tina Fey was channeling the real person — was a Fox News report in which anonymous McCain staffers revealed that Palin had thought Africa was a country.

Not long afterward, a McCain staffer named Martin Eisenstadt came forward to take responsibility for leaking the Africa stuff. At first blush, Eisenstadt seemed exactly the sort you’d expect to cruelly betray his candidate: a vaguely familiar, middle-tier neocon hack affiliated with an outfit called the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — a guy whose natural place in the universe is on the third block of Hardball, his command of the latest GOP talking points and lapel-pin flag both obnoxiously on display. That was enough for MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times, and a host of other media outlets to run with the story that the culprit had been found.

The only trouble was that Martin Eisenstadt was not a McCain adviser or even a real person…. The Harding Institute didn’t exist, nor did the Eisenstadt Group political consulting firm, though phony evidence of both can be found online. It was all an elaborate ruse that worked to perfection. The media made the obligatory hiccup of remorse and hurried on. But the hoax was worth savoring because it was funny on so many levels.

Entertaining stuff.