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Spin, Hype, and a Hoax Involving "Joe the Plumber"
Annenberg's FactCheck.org has published an analysis of the "spin and hype" in the final U.S. presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. Elsewhere on the blogosphere, people have been speculating about the "true identity" of Joe Wurzelbacher ("Joe the plumber"), whose brief encounter with Obama has become the centerpiece of McCain's effort to paint Obama as a socialist who wants to raise everyone's taxes.
On the Daily Kos, several diaries (such as this one and this one) have suggested that "Joe the plumber" may actually have unreported connections to both the McCain campaign and "to Charles Keating of the Keating 5 scandal" that embarrassed McCain in the 1980s. Another diary entry, titled "Joe the Fibber," says that the "Joe the Plumber campaign is based on a fabrication."
Before this speculation runs rampant, though, people should be warned that one of the earliest claims that Wurzelbacher is linked to Keating comes from a source who has been repeatedly and convincingly exposed as a hoax. The source in question has variously identified himself as "Michael/Martin/M. Thomas Eisenstadt" of the "Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy." We added articles to SourceWatch several months ago, exposing M. Thomas Eisenstadt and the Harding Institute. Blogger William K. Wolfrum has also written extensively about Eisenstadt and his various incarnations.
"Martin Eisenstadt" describes his alleged plans to build a casino in Baghdad. "I can assure you that John McCain supports this effort," he says. "John McCain will likely be the next American president."
The ersatz Eisenstadt seems to have borrowed his name from a real pundit, Michael Eisenstadt of the conservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In correspondence with Wolfrum, however, the real Michael Eisenstadt denies any connection with his supposed namesake. The hoax Eisenstadt has claimed at various times to be a campaign advisor to Republican presidential candidates. First he claimed to be advising Rudy Giuliani; later, John McCain. The fake Eisenstadt also appeared in a supposed video interview several months ago, claiming to be an investor building a luxury casino/hotel inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, to be staffed with Iraqi maids and masseuses from Thailand and Russia.
In all likelihood, "Martin Eisenstadt" is some kind of leftist prankster who sees his hoax as a satire. In his recent post alleging a link between "Joe the Plumber" and Charles Keating, "Eisenstadt" claims that during last night's debate, McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt "screamed at John’s debate prep team tonight (out of earshot of reporters, of course). 'You idiots - he's related to Charles Keating… of the Keating Five scandal!'" If indeed such a screaming fit had happened, I cannot imagine that one of McCain's advisors would actually blog about it publicly a day later. In short, this story is simply too implausible to be true.
Joe Wurzelbacher's 15 minutes of fame have prompted news reports that point to some contrasts between reality and his public comments related to the U.S. presidential campaign. It has become clear that he is politically conservative and a fan of John McCain -- not exactly an "undecided voter," as originally portrayed. Wurzelbacher also told reporters today that he does not actually have a plumber's license and that his earnings are well below the $250,000 level that he previously claimed would cost him in higher taxes under Obama's economic plan. These details suggest that "Joe the plumber" is someone with strong political opinions and a rather relaxed attitude toward specific facts -- which, if true, would put him in the same category as quite a few of his fellow Americans. However, I haven't seen anything that gives credence to "Martin Eisenstadt" and his claim that Wurzelbacher has any real relationship to the Keating scandal or other political subterfuge. Some Obama supporters might want to believe otherwise, but as often happens in politics, if you hear a story that is too good to be true, it probably isn't.