Sarah Palin Not On Top

… of the geography game:

…Perhaps one of the most astounding and previously unknown tidbits about Sarah Palin has to do with her already dubious grasp of geography. According to Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron, there was great concern within the McCain campaign that Palin lacked “a degree of knowledgeability necessary to be a running mate, a vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency,” in part because she didn’t know which countries were in NAFTA, and she “didn’t understand that Africa was a continent..

Apparently she thought it was a country. A lot of people think that. A lot of people should not even consider running for President or Vice President .

Details here.

Hat tip Jim Anderson.


  1. #1 Alcari
    November 6, 2008

    “she didn’t know which countries were in NAFTA”

    Wow, how hard could it be? It’s not like there are a lot of countries in North America…

  2. #2 Duae Quartunciae
    November 6, 2008

    I have a very low opinion of Palin; but the basis for this is weak. It’s third hand, with no detail as to how this inference was made, or why. I’d be willing to bet that the Africa thing is blown up out of a something else. Think of Obama and fifty seven states. Until you know more about this, you should tread carefully. You are meant to be on the side of rational skepticism.

  3. #3 greg laden
    November 6, 2008

    DQ: I’ve added the source material for inspection. Make your own decision about both the details and the big picture. O’Reilly is absurd here.

  4. #4 ndt
    November 6, 2008

    If true, this would only make her base support her more. They’d see it as an attack by “elitists”.

  5. #5 Duae Quartunciae
    November 6, 2008

    I’ve seen it already; and I’m making public my own decision of what seems plausible. The links are hardly “source material” for the specific claims being made.

    The “source” is apparently Carl Cameron, Fox news political correspondent, who is in turn speaking of what he heard from others. There’s no detail and frankly, I don’t believe the Africa thing. Perhaps we’ll hear more, and I certainly don’t expect it to be complimentary for Palin, who was a disaster. But I’d bet money that the “Africa” thing in particular is not a case of actual geographic uncertainty on whether Africa is one country or not, but a misstatement or slip blown up for a cheap story. I’m not impressed. One thing I liked about Obama — and McCain when he spoke up for himself — was holding back from invalid nonsense that plays well to unthinking bigots; the Muslim thing and so on. I’m really hopeful that Obama will be trying to build a few bridges. I’d prefer it his supporters took more care in this as well.

    I enjoy the blog, Greg. I’m not being generally critical here; just sounding a caution, for what it is worth.

  6. #6 dean
    November 6, 2008

    I rather doubt this too. It may simply be too early for many people in McCain’s circle to come in and support it; it may be the snide comment of one or two really pissed-off aides who are trying to make her look worse than she already does and take some of the heat off their boss. Until there is more corroboration, I would suggest calm on this.
    I am more inclined to believe the comments coming out about the monies spent on her clothing and other items: there seems to be an anger in the wording of those descriptions that supports it.
    But, even if all is true, I must say: so what? The election is done, and we need to move on with issues like this one.

  7. #7 greg laden
    November 6, 2008

    DQ, I understand what you are saying, but really …

    I have no intention of defending the truth of this commentary … I’m just passing it on. But let’s be clear about a couple of things.

    Not getting the geography of Africa is well within the plausible range of Palin’s limited knowledge. In fact, not getting African geography is nowhere near as amazingly stupid as not knowing which countries are in NA and/or not knowing what the NA in North America is, yet strangely the focus seems to be on the Africa thing. It is less embarrassing or hard to believe than many clearly documented, even self documented, misunderstandings of hers. Sarah Palin is the person who believes that she has special understanding of foreign policy because of her role, as governor of Alaska, in defending American territory when “Putin rears his head” (meaning sends bombers with nuclear weapons over Alaskan airspace). And so on.

    And if we’ve got that wrong and are falsely accusing this truly, dangerously insane woman then, well, who gives a fuck. Not me.

    Yes, it is quite possible that the Republicans are doing nothing other than eating their own young. How fun. Allow me the pleasure of observing it and noting it. Eat! Eat!

    And yes, the video quoted is of course the source material. What else would be the source material? A reporter tells us what he was told. This is the picture of the reporter telling us what he was told. I’m not sure how more source-ey we can get than that.

    I do worry sometimes that people sometimes make the mistake of thinking that blogs are news sources or that bloggers are journalists. [It gets especially worrisome that some bloggers think they are journalists (except the ones that are, of course)].

    I mean, seriously. Do you know what this woman tried to do to us? There will be no more defending Sarah Palin on this blog.

  8. #8 greg laden
    November 6, 2008

    dean: I assure you we are all quite calm.

    I find the disbelief in her lack of understanding of African geography to be itself rather interesting, perhaps a phenomenon. As an Africanist, I run into this kind of thing all the time. Sure, maybe she knows that there are various countries in Africa but has confused the meaning of “South Africa,” or whatever. Rarely are gross misunderstandings of geography neat and clean. More often, they are vague and messy and as a person talks it out some understanding filters into the thought process and some filters out of the thought process.

    And this happens with African geography … to middle class white Americans … more than any other sort of geographical misunderstanding.

    So, my question is this, why the focus on Africa and not on the allegations of her not knowing what is in North America?

    No, folks, she is a first class moron and an all round piece of trash. And, unlike a colleague’s mother who said to him “Oh, so you are going to do your research in Africa: I hear that’s the biggest country in the world” … innocent ignorance from a Chicago area housewife … Sarah Palin actually did endevour to impose her ignorance in the most dangerous way possible on the entire planet.

    No Palin Pandering, please.

  9. #9 the real Obamanator
    November 6, 2008

    But Greg, some of us are just happy to finally see a whitewoman stand up and be counted! It is so patently offensive, and antifeminiSS–hippocritical in fact–that you routinely dismiss Palins more than ample credentials: white, female, powerful AND *a mother*.

  10. #10 george.wiman
    November 6, 2008

    I have no intention of defending the truth of this commentary … I’m just passing it on.

    Yes, it could be true, I certainly know people that ignorant and it fits what I do know of her from credible sources. Because I think she’s a pignorant ideologue, I’m inclined to believe it. So I have to be a bit wary of it.

  11. #11 Notagod
    November 6, 2008

    Those that are defending Palin and by extension christians should be careful. They truly are wacky-loony-cartoons, except, they are also very dangerous.

  12. #12 eddie
    November 6, 2008

    This is from fox. It’s no longer about the 2008 election now. It is about the forthcoming civil war in the GOP.
    Don’t help them.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    November 6, 2008

    Don’t help the GOP fall apart? Oh… ok…

  14. #14 Gerry L
    November 7, 2008

    I posted this over in the comments on Dispatches, but it seems relevant to this post, too.
    “RedState, the conservative answer to Daily Kos, is already stocking up on ammo: They’re launching “Operation Leper” to keep track of McCain campaign alumni who talk smack about Sarah Palin and make them “political lepers.” Expect similar treatment for prominent conservative pundits who balked at the Palin pick, like Kathleen Parker and George Will.”

  15. #15 Duae Quartunciae
    November 7, 2008

    Just to clarify… my comment has nothing whatsoever to do with defending Palin.

    It is exclusively about aiming to maintain high standards of rationality and reason for our side… and Greg is very much my side.

    Just “passing it on” without a bit of a critical look at the source is not the standard I expect. To say it is “possible” is beside the point also. There is simply no credible evidence at this stage to back up the specific claim that Palin was unaware Africa is a continent rather than a country. There are heaps of well documented examples of Palin’s incompetance. This isn’t one of them as yet.

    My guess remains that the Africa remark in particular is most likely not simply a case of thinking Africa was one country rather than a continent. I don’t see any good evidence for this; and think it implausible on the face of it. I can well believe she’d have trouble naming more than three countries in Africa, or even mix up whether “South Africa” is a nation or a region. But there’s simply no good evidence on this available; and the reality based community should recognize that.

  16. #16 dean
    November 7, 2008

    I wasn’t defending Palin either, and I find it rather amusing that this infighting is occurring. I simply find it a little too much to believe the item about Africa. I may be wrong, but that’s where I am now.
    You may find it surprising, but I don’t doubt the bit about not knowing which countries are in NAFTA, but that is because here, in West Michigan, I know many people on both sides of the fence who rail against it but, when I’ve asked them, haven’t been able to explain who was in it. That seems to be common ignorance nugget.
    The calm down wasn’t meant harshly, more along the lines of “calm down and enjoy the ride”. I greatly enjoyed last night’s news discussions of “spending gate” that rolled out of the television.

  17. #17 Virgil Samms
    November 7, 2008

    My guess remains that the Africa remark in particular is most likely not simply a case of thinking Africa was one country rather than a continent…

    How dare you put this guess into the public sphere without some documentation. Shame on you! Drink your own medicine.

  18. #18 Albert Einstein
    November 7, 2008

    I strongly suspect that “Virgil Samms” is a pseudonym.

  19. #19 Virgil Samms
    November 7, 2008

    I strongly suspect that “Virgil Samms” is a pseudonym.

    Oh c’mon now: I’ve got the lens, I can’t lie.

  20. #20 greg laden
    November 7, 2008

    The Africa confusion story has just been confirmed on Hardball. Sort of. Go watch it if you want to see what it all means.

  21. #21 Duae Quartunciae
    November 9, 2008

    The Hardball reference is much more “sort of” than “confirmed”. There’s no added detail; just more reference to the same third hand anonymous claims with no detail or explanation.

    On the other hand, we do now have an alternative account from Palin staffer Meg Stapleton, speaking to ABC news: Palin Aide Fires Back at Reported McCain Camp Slams:

    From the article: However, Stapleton told ABC News the Fox News report on Africa and NAFTA was taken out of context. 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.”

    So. We have a he said/she said situation. But the Stapleton story stands out as having more detail as to how it occurred, a name from the person who makes the claim, and it is an intrinsically a much more plausible account. It is pretty close to what I guessed had probably occurred as soon as I first heard the story.

    Even if you don’t agree with the plausibility thing, or prefer to have better documentation, the onus is clearly on those who want to claim Palin was actually unaware Africa is a continent. At this stage there’s no real strong proof of anything; but quibbling that Stapleton ought to back up her version with hard evidence would now be inconsistent, given the credulous repetition of anonymous third hand sources with no detail at all on how the inference was made.

    Frankly, this SHOULD be a slam dunk for people who are genuinely part of the reality based community. There was never a good basis for repeating this rumour without a bit of straight up acknowledgement of the weakness of the claim and the lack of substantiation. Especially from a scienceblog.

  22. #22 greg laden
    November 9, 2008

    The Hardball reference is much more “sort of” than “confirmed”. There’s no added detail; just more reference to the same third hand anonymous claims with no detail or explanation.

    Why do you keep calling these third hand anonymous claims like this was something special? These claims are being reported by named known respected field reporters who were embedded in the McCain campaign all along with the promise that they keep their mouths shut until after the election. They are now telling us that Sarah Palin’s handlers, without naming specific names of the five or six possible people this could be, have a litany of examples of Palin being a moron. How is this different than most other press stories of this type?

    What I find interesting is that the world is seemingly divided into two parts: Those that report ONLY the Africa gaff (whatever exactly that was) and those that simply can’t believe the Africa gaff. I tell you again, as an Africanist who has taught Afrinist stuff in the American Upper Midwest for a dozen years, that there are lots and lots and lots of
    Americans who don’t get the geography of Africa, see it as something other than a continent divided into distinct countries, who, when pressed, often get confused and may even realize that what they’ve been thinking can’t really be true, get the whole West Africa, East Africa, North Africa, South Africa and southern Africa thing mixed up, and so on and so forth. The root of these difficulties, by the way, is quite interesting …. I’ve blogged on this topic and am moved to do so again at this time, really.

    So, how does an eyewitness account that says “she said “country of Africa” obviate the original observation that she is not well versed in geography, especially African geography, and is confused.?

    What you are not getting is that this is typical of this kind of confusion. No one has a clear cut easy to articulate concept that Africa is one country while Asia is several. When we explore ignorance we ALWAYS see as much smoke and fog as clarity. Why is Sarah Palin’s abysmal ignorance being seen as somehow different?

    So. We have a he said/she said situation.

    Yes. And we can conclude that we really have learned nothing new, and if anything, can continue to believe that Sarah Palin is not well educated or well informed in many important areas, yet was a big hit with the Republicans, underscoring the idea that Republicans value ignorance.

    We’re agreed on that, right?

    quibbling that Stapleton ought to back up her version with hard evidence would now be inconsistent

    I agree. Her version merely confirms what I thought to be true. An Africanist (a pol-sci who works with Africa, for instance) would never even accidentally say “the country of Africa” or get confused over the meaning of “southern Africa” vs. “South Africa” and so on. A typical American of Sarah Palin’s educational level and overall demographic (including the Republican no-real-value-to-actual-knowledge bit) would. And she did.

    It was not a rumor. It was published by Newsweek and reported repeatedly on MSNBC (same news agency). But I do appreciate your condescending and defensive attitude. It has encouraged me to bring this topic to the level of a blog post, or at least consider doing so!

    I think the most important point here is this: Denialism or politically motivated construction of reality are not ignorance. Those things at some point are forced to have have hard edges, clear structures. Ignorance, on the other hand, is generally not well structured or clear. It is foggy and ever-changing. It is like thinking someone you know from the past and you’ve just run into is someone else you also know, and slowly over time things stop fitting together and then other things start coming to mind and at some point you realize your mistake. If you go back over all the thoughts you had during the transitional conversation, it will not be clear cut.

  23. #23 Duae Quartunciae
    November 9, 2008

    I speak of “third hand anonymous” source because that is what they are. Really. I don’t doubt they exist, or that there may reasons for being anonymous. But it is a simple matter of fact that the claim that Palin thought Africa was a country rather than a continent comes from unknown sources who — apparently — were present to hear some exchange, and this gets passed on to a political correspondent in Fox News, and then he gets interviewed.

    It’s anonymous. We don’t hear about it from the people who were involved in the exchange or even from those who overheard it. We don’t know specifically who these people are. We don’t know the actual basis for the inference. There is a lack of any detail.

    This is obviously different from most stories of politician gaffs. The obvious example from the other side being Obama and the 57 states. In most other cases of this campaign we know the background, or have transcripts, or at the least names. You’re just being stupid to think there’s no difference.

    I agree that Palin is woefully uninformed to be a VP. That’s well documented and beside the point. If the claim you repeat in this blog article could be substantiated, you’d have additional evidence for Palin’s ignorance. But Palin being ignorant is no kind of evidence at all for the specific rumours in your blog plot.

    I also agree that you could find people in the USA (or Australia, for that matter) who plumb the kinds of spectacular depths of ignorance such as being unaware Africa is a continent. But I think this is not the norm, even in the USA. Although I’m an Aussie, I did live in the USA for 19 months, in the time of Reagan.

    As I said above, this is NOT about defense of Palin. This is about whether you have maintained the basic standards of evidence and reason that OUGHT to be part of the reality based community, and the scienceblogs.

    At this stage, I frankly don’t think there is any credible basis whatsoever to think Palin thinks Africa is a country rather than a continent. It’s an implausible rumour. We don’t have any good evidence on that point. And — while I am well aware of the capacity of people in general the be spectacularly ignorant, and while I generally have a very low opinion of Palin — on the face of it the account of Stapleton is much more plausible than the vague inferences of Palin making this particular mistake wrt Africa. The inference is indirect, from a source for which we STILL have no name, no detail, and no explanation of how the conclusion was reached.

    Long exchanges in blog comments are rarely useful. My suggestion is that you just take this on board as a comment. I remain a fan, but a critical fan, in the sense that I read your blog regularly with appreciation but never with automatic approval.

    Your blog post here is obviously dealing with rumour. If you can’t see that, you’re just being silly. My concern is that basic standards of rational skepticism should apply always. And in this article, you let those standard slip, IMO. Your comments above seem to still seem to miss this. It’s not about defending Palin.

  24. #24 greg laden
    November 9, 2008

    Duae: Uffda. I don’t really think you are an opinionated dit who cannot understand or accept subtlety or complexity of argument, and is incapable of seeing other people’s perspectives. I doubt that you really think that I care if you are a reader, but at the same time would miss how obnoxious it is to call someone stupid. It is probably true that your 18 months in the US give you a much much better understanding of the nature and character of the typical American understanding/lack of understanding of African Geography than that provided to me by my experience as an educator in an Africanist field since the 1980s.

    Had I said in my post “clearly, this proves that” instead of “apparently” you might have a case. But all you really have is an absurd attitude that you are the keeper of or broader blogsopheric standards. I think in general, we agree on this issue in almost every respect, including what Sarah Palin actually might or might not have known about Africa. But you are obsessed with making sure that I understand that I’ve violated your code. To that there is only one answer and it rhymes with sassafrases.

  25. #25 Duae Quartunciae
    November 9, 2008

    Thanks for that Greg. I think.

    I’m not a keeper of anything. I’m one guy, making a comment; which is how this comment thing is meant to work, as I see it. I don’t feel “obsessed” with this in particular, and in fact think this will be the end of it for me. My opinion is worth whatever value you choose to place upon on it; no skin off my nose at all. I offer my comment to you in the same spirit (I presume) that you make available space for people to give you feedback.

    I realise it is obnoxious to call you stupid. What I actually said is a bit different… I said that (in this instance) you are being silly. That remains my opinion and my feedback. It is a comment on this post and this exchange. I don’t think you are stupid in general; but I do consider this post a low point, and this exchange a good demonstration of how someone who is not stupid can still be silly from time to time. It does happen, for all of us. It’s happened here for you.

    And on the plus side… loved the Bill Mahler clip you posted just recently! Thanks; it was hilarious. I remain a fan, but unreliable as a cheer leader. Thanks also for making the space for critical comment. I’m content to have my remarks on record, and your response alongside; and now we move on. I’ll still be reading!

  26. #26 greg laden
    November 9, 2008

    fans are better than cheerleaders, as least in this particular context.

  27. #27 eddie
    November 12, 2008

    Sorry Greg, I wasn’t clear.

    I don’t want to stop the GOP breaking up. I would much rather see them fight each other tooth and claw until only the shreds remain. Throwing rational argument into the mix would be counter-productive and may allow them to unite against a common enemy.

    Don’t let them do that.

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    November 12, 2008

    Shredding is good.