EDITORIAL: Palin Africa report proves news media’s irresponsibility

By Pitt News Staff

Not long after the election ended, Fox News Channel reported that an anonymous source from the… Not long after the election ended, Fox News Channel reported that an anonymous source from the McCain campaign said Sarah Palin did not know Africa was a continent. It was a shocking post-election revelation that undoubtedly made Americans across the country breathe a collective sigh of relief. Closely following Fox News, MSNBC, The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times quickly affirmed the information, and pretty soon the blogosphere was abuzz over Palin’s supposed ignorance. A ‘Martin Eisenstadt’ was found to be the source of the claim. MSNBC anchor David Schuster said on Monday that Eisenstadt is ‘a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,’ according to The New York Times. There’s just one small problem. Eisenstadt is not a McCain policy adviser. He doesn’t even exist. Martin Eisenstadt is a character developed by independent filmmakers Eitan Gorlin and Dan Mirvish. The two created Eisenstadt to help promote a TV show about the character. Eisenstadt has his very own blog and video clips on YouTube. The filmmakers said, according to the Times, that they were not responsible for leaking the Africa claim through Eisenstadt, however. Indeed, the claim might very well be true. But that’s not the issue. If this controversy has proven anything, it’s the irresponsibility of the news media, which, despite the questionable source, reported the claim. Twenty-four-hour news networks, news Web sites and blogs seem to find it more important to be the first to report, rather than to report accurately. With reporting neglected, journalists turn to the media’s echo chamber ‘mdash; reporting what their competitors are reporting without doing the necessary fact checking. As a result, sensationalist stories ‘mdash; like this one regarding Palin and last month’s story about student and McCain campaign volunteer Ashley Todd’s false encounter with a B-carving robber in Bloomfield ‘mdash; end up dominating news coverage. Where does this leave the viewers, listeners and readers who rely on the news media for information? After such incidents of poor reporting, it is becoming more and more difficult to trust these outrageous news stories. Reports, editors, anchors and journalists have an obligation to report the facts and only the facts. After the Eisenstadt incident was proven to be a hoax, MSNBC swiftly issued a correction and The New Republic posted on its Web site that the source of the Palin Africa story was a fraud. But such problematic stories shouldn’t ever make it to the press or the airwaves in the first place. The duty of each and every journalist is to make sure of that. As for Sarah Palin and whether she knows if Africa is a continent, we’ll check and re-check our sources and get back to you.