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You know how Sarah Palin said Paul Revere warned the British? Well, he did. Now, who looks stupid?

June 6, 2011 |  3:04 am

Sarah Palin

You may have heard recently something about that Sarah Palin telling a reporter that Paul Revere warned the British on his famous rousing revolutionary ride.

Now, that so many Americans have wallowed in their smug confirmation that Palin is an idiot unqualified for anything but Paul Revere thinks about something paulreverefactsdotcomrepeating sixth-grade history, how far, wide and fast do you think the contradictory news will spread that the former governor of Alaska was indeed correct?

That the Republican non-candidate, in fact, knew more about the actual facts of Revere's midnight ride than all those idiots unknowingly revealing their own ignorance by laughing at her faux faux pas? How secretly embarrassing this must be, to be forced to face that you're dumber than the reputed dummy.

As it happens, though, such phenomena are regular occurrences in American politics, reminding consumers of news to be wary when some fresh story seems to fit contemporary assumptions so absolutely perfectly.

The well-known fable is Revere's late-night ride to warn fellow revolutionaries that....

...the British were coming. Less known, obviously, is the rest of the evening's events in which Revere was captured by said redcoats and did indeed defiantly warn them of the awakened militia awaiting their arrival ahead and of the American Revolution's inevitable victory.

Palin knew this. The on-scene reporters did not and ran off like Revere to alert the world to Palin's latest mis-speak, which wasn't.

Like a number of famous faux gaffes in American politics, the facts of the situation no longer really matter.

The initial impression was eagerly grabbed by so many, starting with the reporter and millions of others gleefully sharing the story that reinforced their beliefs and/or desires.

This phenomenon is actually not a new one in American politics, although its immediate spread is obviously hastened by the Internet. Speaking of which, Al Gore did not invent it. Nor did he claim to, as often as you've heard otherwise.

In 1999, the hapless former journalist, who should have known to make a better word choice, told CNN that in Congress he "took the initiative in creating the Internet."

Democrat Gore never used the word "invented." That was part of another willful misinterpretation that fit expectations of Gore's boasts and was gleefully spread by opponents as further proof of his unseemly hubris. It lives on to this day.Sarah Palin boards her bus 6-1-11

Perhaps you remember how one day during a photo op President George H.W. Bush was overheard asking a store checkout clerk how this price scanner thing worked?

That quote was immediately transmitted as proof of how disconnected that Republican chief executive was, that he had no knowledge of something as ordinary as a checkout scanner.

The fact is, asking such inane and often obvious questions as "what are you doing here?" is a bipartisan ploy used by politicians to fill the awkward time void they are hanging around someone working while photographers snap their photos several hundred times.

President Obama likely said much the same thing last Friday in that Toledo Chrysler plant when for the benefit of nearby photographers he feigned interest watching assembly-line worker Anthony Davis install a dashboard instrument panel. (See photo below)

A classic example of this faux faux pas was in 1992 when Vice President Dan Quayle agreed to participate in a New Jersey classroom spelling bee.

Working from a placard, Quayle corrected one sixth-grader by telling him to add an "e" to "potato." Journalists gleefully noted the spelling misteak. And Quayle's dunce hat was glued in place.

Trouble is, that mis-spelled placard was actually written out by the classroom teacher herself, either through her own ignorance or, a few suspect, some sly political set-up. Quayle knew he hadn't written it and thought the error was the point of the lesson.

And because the classroom spelling bit was a last-minute addition, aides who would have foreseen the everlasting damage of their boss inexplicably adding a mistake to a student's work did not know what the placard said. Quayle subsequently forbade them from explaining the error to the media, for fear of embarrassing the teacher.

One of the immutable laws of public communications in politics and other fields is, if you have to explain something, you lose. Seeking to explain you were for something before being against it simply digs a deeper Obama watches Chrysler employee anthony davis work on assembly line 6-3-11hole.

This time the mistake for Palin, who used to be accused of dodging reporters' questions, was bothering to answer such an amateur media gotcha question in a noisy, moving crowd. Better would have been a simple dismissive and cheery, "You're kidding, right?" Such are the ongoing lessons for primary candidates. Which she isn't now, of course.

Early in a previous race for the Republican presidential nomination almost 12 years ago, then Texas Gov. George W. Bush was in a jammed New Hampshire airport meeting room, answering questions from local media. Apropos of nothing, one reporter (perhaps prompted by an opponent's camp) asked Bush his pre-written gotcha: Name the new president of Pakistan.

Obviously, Pervez Musharraf had nothing to do with New Hampshire issues and is similar to some Democratic candidates flubbing the name of Russia's then prime minister during 2008 debates (Dmitry Medvedev).

Bush didn't know the Pakistani leader's name that day and looked clumsy attempting to answer. He could have brushed it away by instantly asking the reporter some arcane political who's-who, laughing off their mutual ignorance and quickly taking the next question. But he didn't and took media lumps for several days.

As everyone now knows, such a splashy gaffe can effectively doom any chance a candidate has of winning two terms in the White House.

Related:

Sarah Palin plays the media like a violin; They'll try to get even

Piper Palin shares her Mom's hot/cold attitude toward the media

Mitt Romney leads in Iowa poll, Sarah Palin comes in second, Ron Paul falls to 7th

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters; Gary Hershorn / Reuters; Jeff Kowalsky / EPA (Obama at Chrysler, June 3).

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