Ann Althouse is throwing a tantrum about the Roger Simon column that imagined Paul Ryan referring to Mitt Romney as “The Stench,” after a local Republican official in Iowa was quoted in the NYT as saying that if Ryan ever wanted to run for national office he’d have to “wash the stench of Romney off him.”

Althouse’s theory is that Simon deliberately put the false story out there to damage Romney, with the clearly satirical parts – the PowerPoint riff – buried on page 2, but there for plausible deniability.

Umm … no. The joke wasn’t really very hard to spot.

Here’s the top of the article:

Paul Ryan has gone rogue. He is unleashed, unchained, off the hook.

“I hate to say this, but if Ryan wants to run for national office again, he’ll probably have to wash the stench of Romney off of him,” Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa, told The New York Times on Sunday.

Coming from a resident of Iowa, a state where people are polite even to soybeans, this was a powerful condemnation of the Republican nominee.

Though Ryan had already decided to distance himself from the floundering Romney campaign, he now feels totally uninhibited. Reportedly, he has been marching around his campaign bus, saying things like, “If Stench calls, take a message” and “Tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.”

The first hint comes from “a state where people are polite to soybeans.” Then we get to “Tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.” That couldn’t possibly be a real quote. “Finger “sandwiches”? How much broader a wink do you need?

And no, no actual VP candidate ever refuses a call from the guy whose heart attack he hopes to be waiting for. “I’ll text him later”? Get a grip!

The fact that so many reasonably important media players got punked by this does suggest how impossibly badly things are going for Romney & Co., and how much some of them would have liked the story to be true: as I would, of course, myself.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been even slightly tentative about my reading; I allowed myself to be influenced by the crowd reaction rather than paying close attention to the text.

The cues were there, in big type; I don’t think Simon should be blamed if other people are hard of reading.

Footnote Anyway, Boston’s nickname for Ryan couldn’t possibly really be “Gilligan.” He’s obviously a “Robin.”

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.