It’s the juiciest story of journalistic malpractice in a while: Some wire service out of New Zealand ran a story last month headlined: US Republican Apologises for Elena Kagan “Sextape”. The story reported that “GOP consultant” Martin Eisenstadt had apologized for implying that the Heritage Foundation was involved in a purported incident involving an Elena Kagan sex tape. The story noted that Eisenstadt is a senior fellow at the Harding Institute and had been an advisor to John McCain and Sarah Palin.
I guess the story was, as they say, too good to check. ABC News, USA Today, and NPR picked up the story, and even ran the headline verbatim.
One problem: the only thing accurate about the story is the Heritage Foundation exists. There is no Elena Kagan sex tape (thank heavens). There is no Harding Institute. Eisenstadt is not a GOP consultant, and he never advised McCain or Palin.
In fact, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t even exist. He is a hoax, created by two filmmakers. Over the years the two have duped numerous publications into running stories based on Eisenstadt, including MSNBC, the LA Times, the New Republic, and Time. (Wikipedia cites Mother Jones too, but I can’t confirm that.) But the media keep getting taken in, perhaps because Eisenstadt’s exploits are so deliciously damaging to Republicans.
They don’t even change his name, so it would just take a single Google search to uncover the fraud. That’s right, these publications do less fact-checking than Internet Scofflaw! ABC News should be particularly ashamed, since they themselves once ran a story about Eisenstadt being a hoax.
Keep this in mind whenever you catch yourself believing the media.