Monday, November 10, 2008

Palin, Cameron, Eisenstadt, Africa: Whom to Believe?

According to Carl Cameron of Fox News, Sarah Palin did not know what countries were in NAFTA or whether Africa was a country or a continent. According to Martin Eisenstadt, he was Cameron's source and he more or less made up the story, having helped brief Palin on foreign policy and concluded that she wasn't very well informed. According to multiple sources around the web, Eisenstadt himself is a hoax, a blogger at an imaginary thinktank who has no actual connection with the McCain campaign.

Various authorities online, many of whom accepted first the Cameron story and then the Eisenstadt admission for gospel, now have to choose between believing the original Cameron story, believing the Eisenstadt claim that it was bogus and he was its source, or believing the sources who "on background" (i.e. anonymously so far as readers are concerned) say that Eisenstadt was not Cameron's source. As best I can tell, nobody has any solid basis for any of those views. My own guess is that:

1. Eisenstadt wasn't Cameron's source and

2. Whoever the source was, the story itself was bogus.

18 Comments:

At 6:15 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger Steve said...

The idea that someone smart enough to become a Governor with an 80% approval rating is dumb enough to think Africa's a country is laughably absurd. In fact, I'd say it's exactly as absurd as the idea that someone smart enough to get elected President is dumb enough to think there are 57 states.

The difference is that even the most partisan of Republican partisan hacks recognizes that Obama knows how many states there are, even if they mock him for his verbal miscue. But Democrat partisan hacks don't seem to recognize the same regarding Palin. And Obama's gaffe was something he is known to have actually said (even if it was obvious he meant to say 47 instead of 57), whereas Palin's "gaffe" only exists inside the claims of anonymous agenda-driven trolls.

 
At 6:21 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger David Tomlin said...

One blog commenter has argued that someone as educated as Palin must know that Africa is a continent, and that there is no such country as 'South Africa'.

Sarah Palin: 'If there are allegations based on questions or comments I made in debate prep about NAFTA, about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there, then those were taken out of context.'

http://community.adn.com/adn/node/134161

Palin doubtless spent most of her debate prep prattling in this fashion. Note that she now seems to think that there is both a continent called Africa and country called Africa. It may be that she does actually know the relevant geography, but one or more of her preppers came away honestly believing otherwise.

As for Eisenstadt, this is the first time I've heard of him.

 
At 6:39 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger David Tomlin said...

The idea that someone smart enough to become a Governor with an 80% approval rating is dumb enough to think Africa's a country is laughably absurd.

Wielding political power doesn't require book learnin'. There was a time when most of Europe's kings were illiterate.

Getting elected is about charming voters. Brains can be rented.

Many have pointed out that it's easy to be popular governing Alaska when oil prices are high.

 
At 6:48 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

David Tomlin writes:

"It may be that she does actually know the relevant geography, but one or more of her preppers came away honestly believing otherwise."

How do you know?

The obvious alternative is that the story was invented by someone in the McCain campaign who either wanted to shift blame for McCain's loss or to weaken Palin's position in future intra-Republican politics.

We don't even know who told the story, let alone whether he thought it was true.

 
At 8:21 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger David Tomlin said...

I don't know.

That's why the sentence started with 'It may be . . .'

 
At 8:50 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger David Tomlin said...

The obvious alternative is that the story was invented . . .

Sarah Palin herself isn't claiming the story is pure invention. Her non-denial implies there is some kind of substance behind it.

 
At 9:51 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger Rudy said...

Cameron is in line to be the next Dan Rather. He'd better retract the story or name a source - other than Eisenstadt - or he's dead meat, just like Rather. I said when Rather got caught - "show us the original memos" and of course Dan never did, and he was rightly fired for unethical journalism. It's now time for Carl Cameron to put up or shut up. If his source was Eisenstadt he needs to admit he made a foolish mistake and move on. If it's someone else, he'd better name the source ('show the memos') or he's TOAST. Get a clue Carl!!

 
At 10:12 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

David Tomlin wrote:

"It may be that she does actually know the relevant geography, but one or more of her preppers came away honestly believing otherwise."

Unfortunately, the ambiguity of the English language permits two readings of this. I read it as:

It may be [that she does actually know the relevant geography], but one or more of her preppers came away honestly believing otherwise." It sounds from David's later post as though he intended "It may be" to cover both halves of the rest of the sentence.

 
At 9:03 AM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Francis said...

My opinion is that the story is bogus to start with. I have no proof of it, but just acquaintance with urban legends makes you suspicious with that kind of story, for the following reasons:

a) it's the same story each time, only a few things are changed (e.g., for Bush, I think it was he didn't know where Israel was on the map, or mistook Iraq for Iran, etc.).

b) it's just based on hearsay, even though it should have been easily observed if it were true (i.e., if she were that dumb, she would have said similar factually stupid things 'live' - and I'm not talking about a simple goofup.)

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof: I too believe that competing in politics require some intelligence, even though it is not the same kind as that needed to study physics. So, to me too, it is unlikely that someone getting to be elected governor would be that stupid.

It is reminiscent of the story of the guy that puts his Winnebago on cruise-control to make himself a coffee: if he has the talent to earn the money for a Winnebago, how can he commit such a dumb thing?

 
At 9:46 AM, November 11, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Let me offer a slightly different reason for scepticism: The story is, in a different sense than Francis suggests, self refuting.

I am assuming that the source really was someone in the McCain campaign. There are then two possibilities:

1. The source supports Palin, or at least is neutral towards her. In that case, even if the story were true, it would not have been leaked.

2. The source opposes Palin, either because he wants to shift blame to her or because he wants to weaken her position in future intra-party politics. In that case, his telling the story is no good reason to think it is true, since an invented story would serve the same purpose.

Hence we can conclude, not that the story is false, but that there is no good reason to think it true.

 
At 12:08 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Francis said...

I tend to agree with you, David.

The problem I see, though, is that there is another assumption in your statement "an invented story would serve the same purpose". The assumption is that the 'source' can lie shamelessly. And perhaps this is another reason people will consider the story: not only do they like to believe some kinds of things, but perhaps they don't think someone would tell an enormous lie in an 'unsollicited way', if you want (e.g., without being under some duress).

 
At 1:38 PM, November 11, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

Seems to me that Sarah Palin is yesterday's news by now. Personally, I neither know nor care whether she believes Africa to be a country or a continent. If she renews herself as a political force in the future, no doubt her understanding of geography will have moved on by then.

I'm not entitled to vote for or against her, but if entitled I surely wouldn't vote for her whatever she thinks about Africa. I rate even socialists somewhat higher than religious zealots.

 
At 5:11 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Francis said...

Hi, Jonathan;

Three things:

a) I think David's question is not so much about Palin than about the mechanism by which some 'news' are made and spread.

b) Perhaps Palin is not yesterday's news: some people already see her running in 2012.

c) Religious zealot? I have seen that charge being made against her, but as for the case of Africa, I suppose there is some margin left for doubt.

 
At 12:30 AM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

I apologize for my careless comment yesterday: my views on Sarah Palin are neither well informed nor of general interest. I would try to delete the comment, but Francis has already replied to it.

 
At 7:23 AM, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Francis said...

Jonathan;

Wow! An apology: That is something rarely seen on a blog - even less so within the thread of a political subject!

No offense (speaking only for myself, of course). I didn't see your comment as really offensive; I just supposed you were totally fed up with the elections.

Cheers!

 
At 2:26 PM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

Hello, Francis. No, I wasn't apologizing for being offensive; just for wasting people's time. You're right that I did get rather fed up with the election; glad it's over now.

 
At 9:13 AM, December 14, 2008, Blogger Jim Lippard said...

Palin's own response to these charges provides a reasonable explanation to the source of this story.

Palin clearly knows that Africa is a continent that includes countries such as Sudan, which she discussed in the October 2 VP debate. Though she apparently lied about calling for divestiture of Alaska's investments in the Sudan:

http://mudflats.wordpress.com/2008/10/06/the-truth-about-palin-and-darfur/

However, Palin apparently was under the impression that "Africa" denotes both a continent *and* a country. Look at what she said in this New York Times story about the allegation in question:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/08/us/politics/08palin.html

"So, no, I think that if there are allegations based on questions or comments that I made in debate prep about Nafta, and about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there, then those were taken out of context," Ms. Palin said.

"The continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there" suggests that she thinks there is a country named Africa on the continent of Africa; she may be thinking that South Africa is like South Vietnam.

 
At 9:15 AM, December 14, 2008, Blogger Jim Lippard said...

Whoops, I see that David Tomlin has already made this point, though it doesn't appear to have captured much notice based on the subsequent comments.

 

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