Sarah Palin in Bikini with Rifle

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Sarah Palin?

Sarah Palin in Bikini
Viral image

Viral image purports to show former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin posing for a photo while sporting an American flag bikini and a rifle.

Description: Photo hoax / Satire
Circulating since: Sep. 2008
Status: Fake

Analysis: Despite appearances, this is not a real photo of former Alaska governor and Republican Party vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. A prankster doctored the image by pasting Governor Palin's head atop someone else's body.

Researching this hoax was an eye-opening experience. Come to find out, pictures of bikini-clad girls posing with rifles and handguns are quite a popular fetish online. I had to sift through dozens of redundant (to my taste) images on Google before finding the original used in this Photoshop job. It turned up in the photostream of a Flickr user nicknamed Doctor Casino. The original photo, of a model named Elizabeth, was taken in Georgia in 2006.

The head shot of Sarah Palin was clipped from another Flickr image (credited to J. Medkeff), flipped, and pasted over the face of the original model.

Spoofing the "gun-toting beauty queen"

The resulting montage was obviously meant to satirize Sarah Palin's public image as a "gun-toting beauty queen," as one newspaper headline characterized the governor in 2008. Palin was, after all, the runner-up in the 1984 Miss Alaska beauty pageant, and is a staunch advocate of gun ownership rights, not to mention a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association.

Many people didn't question the fake image when it first went into circulation, including some in the media. CNN entertainment reporter Lola Ogunnaike, for example, used it as the basis for this rhetorical question in an on-air interview: "... people say, yes, she looks good in a bikini clutching an AK-47, but is she equipped to run the country?"

We don't, in fact, know whether Sarah Palin looks good in a bikini clutching an AK-47, because, first off, that isn't even Palin, as we've established; second, the weapon is a pellet or BB gun, not an AK-47 or any other kind of assault rifle.

Origin

Within days after the bogus image went viral, a Facebook user identifying herself only as "Naomi" claimed credit for the spoof. "I was the brazen Photoshopper that doctored the image," she admitted online. "I created the image this past Saturday and posted it to my Facebook blog. From there, it apparently took off like wildfire, morphing into this bizarre Internet meme."

She claimed not to have any political motivation for the prank. "I don't harbor any crazy liberal agenda," Naomi wrote. "Just a twisted sense of humor."

Nor did she mean to deceive anyone. "I had no intention of spreading any rumors or having the photo come off as authentic," she said. "In fact, at the bottom of the image, I fully disclosed that this was the consequence of being bored as sin on a Saturday afternoon with Photoshop at my fingertips."

She was unaware of how far and fast it had gotten around, Naomi told FactCheck.org when she was contacted to confirm authorship of the hoax, until her brother called her at 3 a.m. to tell her he'd seen it on Huffington Post. "Little did I know it would spread faster than herpes at a celebrity rehab clinic," she wrote.

Postscript

As of our February 2016 update of this page, the image continues to crop up -- and people continue to try to pass it off as real -- whenever Sarah Palin's name is in the headlines.