GOP, You Got Punked

Oddball Book Takes Fraud to True Excess

Posted November 9, 2009 at 5:24pm

“I Am Martin Eisenstadt: One Man’s (Wildly Inappropriate) Adventures With the Last Republicans— is the somewhat true memoir of a completely fictitious pundit.

Created as a hoax by two enterprising filmmakers in the midst of the frenzied 2008 presidential campaign, Eisenstadt posed as a McCain campaign foreign policy adviser and a senior fellow at the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — named after one of the 20th century’s least-beloved presidents, Warren G. Harding.

Despite the fact that a simple Google search would have revealed

Eisenstadt as an elaborate hoax (complete with a fake blog, fake Harding Institute Web site and fake BBC documentary posted to YouTube), several mainstream media outlets (including MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times and the New Republic) were duped into quoting Eisenstadt — and were forced to retract their stories when their errors became apparent.

As a fake pundit, Eisenstadt was a brilliantly witty hoax perpetuated by a hair-trigger mainstream media driven too often by a 24-hour cable news cycle. But in book form, Eisenstadt turns out to be somewhat of an inconsistency.

In Eisenstadt’s literary debut, the hoaxsters, Eitan Gorlin (who actually plays Eisenstadt on camera) and Dan Mirvish, give their fictional character an elaborate background involving a hippie mother who goes to work for the Nixon White House and becomes the casual lover of Watergate conspirator John Ehrlichman. As a result, Eisenstadt gets a firsthand education in the dark arts of “dirty tricks, enemies lists, ‘rat fucking’ and ‘the Plumbers’— from “Mr. John.—

In addition to being schooled in Nixonian campaign tactics, Eisenstadt has a childhood full of D.C. hijinks — such as attending hardcore punk shows with President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, and future MSNBC journalist Mika Brzezinski. Eisenstadt then moves on to a prestigious internship working for George H.W. Bush campaign strategist Lee Atwater. Eisenstadt takes credit for the famous Willie Horton spot and the “tank— ad that sunk Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign.

After explaining Eisenstadt’s formative years, the narrative moves into a devilish cross between truth and fiction. In the book, Eisenstadt gets a consulting gig trying to put casinos in the Iraqi Green Zone. In reality, the fake pundit Eisenstadt’s first appearance was a phony interview on “Al Iraqiya,— which was then picked up as fact by Mother Jones blogger Jonathan Stein. During the 2008 campaign, Mirvish and Gorlin produced a series of fake ads purportedly by the Rudy Giuliani campaign. In their narrative, they make Eisenstadt responsible for these ads.

The highlight of the book and Eisenstadt’s career as a fake pundit involved his “role— with the McCain campaign. As an occasional adviser, Eisenstadt takes proud credit for all sorts of dubious campaign events that are best described as “gaffes— — the Sarah Palin wardrobe expenditures exceeding $100,000, falsely linking Joe the Plumber with convicted fraudster Charles Keating and leaking to the media that Palin was unaware Africa was a continent. In the case of the Africa story, Eisenstadt was able to persuade MSNBC to report that he was the source of the story.

As a character, the two filmmakers have given their fake commentator the pitch-perfect mix of hubris and vanity necessary in a Beltway pundit. And their humor is often genuinely funny. The occasional stolen Woody Allen joke aside, the book is often more laugh-out-loud funny than the actual Eisenstadt punditry videos.

But what makes “I Am Martin Eisenstadt— such a plodding affair sometimes are the boring inside-politics, inside-the-Beltway details that make up far too much of the actual narrative. Little localisms don’t really add anything; in fact, they often feel more like filler. In one particularly glaring instance, Eisenstadt spends an entire paragraph describing his route on the Washington Metro — which lines he took and where he transferred.

Several media outlets have reported that Eisenstadt’s creators had made their viral video hoax in hopes of getting a television pilot. Eisenstadt might have translated better on the small screen. In book form, he’s sometimes funny; but he’s mostly a plodding, vacuous windbag.