It used to be that you could pull a really good hoax on people and it would take a long time to be figured out (if it was figured out at all!) And then everyone would have a good story and maybe be a little embarrassed, but not for too long. You know, like those great old stories about people like Clifford Irving faking a Howard Hughes book and Alan Conway who passed himself off as Stanley Kubrick for a while. I guess people were less cynical back then, and weren't always terrified of getting duped. "Trusting," I guess is the word. Well, not anymore. Everything gets figured out so quickly! Is it the quality of the hoaxes, or the cynicism of the hoaxed? Well, probably both. Take a look at some recent examples:
Is Martin Eisenstadt, the neo-conservative think-tanker who claimed to have spread a rumor that Sarah Palin didn't know Africa was a continent, real? Perhaps not, but then again, how do we know if the New York Times, the august journal which exposed him, is real, either? Eisenstadt, a Times article reports, is actually Eitan Gorlin, an actor playing the part of a neoconservative think-tanker. Gorlin's response on the Eisenstadt Group website he created as part of the hoax: How do we know this is the real New York Times? Times writer Richard Perez-Peña pokes at the incident's surrealism, quizzing his sources on how they, too, can prove they're not part of the hoax. But our tenuous grasp of reality is far worse than his gibes suggest.In an age of Photoshop, Iran can have as many missiles as it wants; headlines can be faked; and bodies altered beyond any relationship to the real human form. But the problem of identity goes far deeper. Stephen Glass, as a writer for The New Republic, created a website for a fake company, Jukt Micronics, for a story; Forbes exposed this lie, and countless others. But today, Glass might well have gotten away with it. Convincingly complete websites are easy to assemble. They don't even require human hands: Automated software cobbles together topical websites from republished copy scoured from the Web to trick Google into giving them free advertising revenue. And someone looking to hide their identity can now use proxy services to register domain names anonymously. For that matter, the Internet's domain-name system — the root of all online identity — is dangerously vulnerable. Earlier this year, security researcher Dan Kaminsky found a nearly fatal flaw that would allow hackers to hijacks visits to website and redirect viewers to alternate ones. That flaw has mostly been fixed, but who knows what other ones await discovery? By tricking the systems which route a request for a domain name — nytimes.com, for example — to the right server, a troublemaker might not just fake up a headline, but an entire alternate version of the Times online. Trust for media, old and new, continues to decline. Readers demand speed, punishing sluggish outlets by withholding their attention. Celerity replaces seriousness as a measure of authority. Who said what? Can you believe it? And does it matter, as long as you were the first to know?
♦ The Times has the skinny on "Martin Eisenstadt," the supposed McCain consultant who leaked info to the press. (He's an aspiring filmmaker, not surprisingly.) In the meantime, MSNBC's retracted its story. [NYT, AP]
♦ You might be enjoying CW's Stylista, but the ratings thus far haven't been especially encouraging. [NYO]
♦ Two new cast members, Michaela Watkins and Abby Elliott, will join Saturday Night Live beginning this weekend. [NYT]
♦ Showtime is developing an hour-long show by Stan Lee about a gay superhero. [Variety]
David Shuster, we tried to warn you. "Martin Eisenstadt" is no adviser to John McCain, our own Alex Pareene reported Nov. 4, but rather a talented comedian. Mother Jones did likewise. And yet! On Monday, nearly six days after that warning, you had to go and identify Eisenstadt on MSNBC as a "McCain policy adviser" who spread word that McCain running mate Sarah Palin didn't know Africa was a continent. The Times did a big expose, revealing that Eisenstadt is really Eitan Gorlin, who perpetuated the hoax with fellow filmmaker Dan Mirvish. MSNBC retracted the story, and we're left to examine your track record: