Martin Eisenstadt: Pundit or Fraud?

Two filmmakers maintained a blog for a faux political pundit for two years.

November 13, 2008, 6:26 PM

Nov. 14, 2008 — -- Martin Eisenstadt isn't who you think he is.

He's not a pundit, a political strategist or even a fellow at a Washington, D.C., think tank.

And he's definitely not a senior adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Eisenstadt is the fabrication of two filmmakers, Eitan Gorlin and Dan Mirvish, who, as The New York Times first reported Wednesday, succeeded at an elaborate hoax that fooled countless media outlets into believing Eisenstadt was a real political insider.

Over the course of the past year and a half, Gorlin and Mirvish -- under the guise of Eisenstadt -- infiltrated political coverage on several occasions, when media outlets picked up on their fake political commentary on their blog postings and video clips.

The most recent incident came right after Election Day, when Fox News cited anonymous McCain aides as having claimed that Gov. Sarah Palin did not know Africa was a continent.

The furor over the report caused the Palin camp to lambaste the anonymous source for taking the governor's comment out of context.

Mirvish and Gorlin weren't the original anonymous source, but jumped at the opportunity to make fun of what they call the media's propensity to use anonymous sources.

On Nov. 10, the duo posted a blog entry about the Fox report in which they -- or Eisenstadt -- falsely claimed to be coming forward as the anonymous source who leaked the Palin blunder.

"So yes, to be clear, last week I was the one who leaked those things to a producer at Fox News," read the Eisenstadt blog, penned by Gorlin.

In the post, Eisenstadt claimed he was a foreign policy adviser who helped Palin prep for the debate.

"[Fox News] basically set it up so it would make sense that their [anonymous source] was us," Mirvish said.

Later that day, MSNBC picked up on the fraudulent admission by Gorlin and incorrectly reported that Eisenstadt was Fox's anonymous source.

MSNBC quickly realized its mistake and corrected it, later apologizing that the piece ever made air.

Asked whether Palin had any reaction to Eisenstadt claiming to be the anonymous source, Bill McAllister, Palin's press secretary, told that Palin has "maintained all along that this was a ridiculous allegation, as I think should have been apparent to everyone."

But a Palin campaign spokesperson said otherwise when the Fox report was first released.

Longtime Palin staffer Meg Stapleton told ABC News' Kate Snow that Palin had fumbled over an Africa comment, but that it was a misspeak not worthy of the press coverage it received.

She explained that during a briefing session, someone asked Palin to explain the McCain-Palin stance on an issue, and as she was responding, "in the middle, she said 'country of Africa' and somebody instantly wrote it down and said, 'Oh, my God, she thinks it's a country.'"

But "she knows it's a continent," Stapleton said. "It was just a human mistake, just like Obama saying 57 states. I don't think anyone ever doubted that Obama knows there are 50 states."

Now that the hoax is revealed, Mirvish and Gorlin told that it was all worth the chance to satirize political pundits.

Martin Eisenstadt: Timeline of a Hoax

Mirvish said that while the Eisenstadt character eventually turned into a way for him and Gorlin to bring light to the media's overuse of anonymous sourcing and punditry, the idea initially grew out of the partners' desire to write a television series.

In an effort to garner attention for their short films, Mirvish and Gorlin leaked clips of their material on YouTube in spring 2007.

But there was a catch: At the end of each video, a tagline drew viewers to the Rudy Giuliani campaign site.

"This was at the time of the primaries when the Obama Girl was appearing," said Mirvish, "and you were getting more attention for funny political ads than anything else."

Mirvish said they chose Giuliani out of all the candidates because he had not used the Internet like others had and, simply put, his campaign's text font was the easiest to replicate.

"The Giuliani campaign didn't even have a logo," said Mirvish.

The Guiliani ads picked up traction in the summer of 2007, but no one could figure out who was behind them, according to Mirvish, who said the Giuliani campaign denied its involvement but never investigated them further.

By the time the primaries were over, Mirvish said he and Gorlin had to figure out a way to get more attention. The writers strike had stalled their hopes for a television series, and Giuliani was out of the presidential race.

And so, Eisenstadt was born. The name chosen because of its similarity to several of those who work in the Bush administration. The personality was conceived as a hybrid between Frasier Crane and Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert.

"All the neo-cons, especially from the Bush administration, always have very Jewish last names and very Christian first names," said Mirvish.

It also didn't hurt that there is an actual pundit with the name Martin Eisenstadt.

Eisenstadt's first name was changed slightly from its first inception, M. Thomas Eisenstadt, to throw off a suspicious reader whose blog baring the title "Eisenstadt is a hoax" had become a second search result for users who Googled "Eisenstadt."

"We had a couple of close calls," said Gorlin.

Mirvish estimates that it would have taken "about 20 seconds of searching to realize Eisenstadt was a hoax."

Anatomy of a Political Hoax

In addition to the Eisenstadt character, Gorlin and Mirvish also created the Harding Institute -- chosen because Warren Harding was one of the few presidents who didn't already have an organization in his name -- to be the think tank that employed the "pundit."

"We wanted to have this character like a lot of the pundits who would have 'macaca' moments where he'd say something really offensive and be captured on YouTube," said Mirvish.

"Then he'd have to do damage control: After all, that's the great art of Washington, how to apologize," he said.

One of the first videos to appear was a fake interview between Eisenstadt and an actor posing as an Iraqi television reporter, during which Eisenstadt suggested building a mosque inside a proposed casino in the Green Zone.

After the interview was leaked -- purposefully by Mirvish and Gorlin -- on YouTube, the Harding Institute issued an apology in a July press release, writing, "If anyone in the Muslim community was offended by those remarks, I sincerely apologize."

The apology, much to Mirvish's delight, was picked up by various news outlets.

But not everything that Eisenstadt blogged about was false.

When news of Palin's expensive wardrobe was leaked, Mirvish said that he did "legwork real journalists probably should have been doing" to research the money the campaign had been spending on makeup artists.

Mirvish claims to have discovered that there was a third person who had been paid by the RNC who, upon further investigation of the party's FEC filings, was responsible for Palin's fake tan -- not her makeup.

"That's the kind of thing that, with all due respect, you guys should have figured out," said Mirvish.

News of Palin's spray tan later spread throughout the blogosphere.

As Election Day came and went, Mirvish and Gorlin assumed their work was done and prepared to allow a newspaper to expose them -- press, after all, was what they had been after from the start.

But when MSNBC aired their report Monday, Mirvish said they knew their prank was still going.

"We thought, 'Oh, my God, Palin is the gift that keeps on giving,'" he said.

After nearly two years of Eisenstadt, Mirvish and Gorlin aren't sure what they'll create next.

A book offer is already on the table, said Mirvish, who is eager to go back to work in Hollywood.

As for Gorlin, he seems hopeful that Eisenstadt will keep evolving as time goes on.

"[Eisenstadt] is going to have to keep living," he said. "I think the last Republican is going to have to find a place in the 'Yes we Can' generation."

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