A new twist has emerged in the long-wrangling fight against Chuck Hagel’s nomination for secretary of defense from elements of right-wing news organizations. The strange life and death of a rumor involving Hagel's supposed connections to an organization called "Friends of Hamas" shows the curious way that a little thing known as the "truth" is no obstacle to the Washington press corps.
During the confirmation hearings this month, the right-wing website Breitbart published an incendiary story by Ben Shapiro alleging that Hagel had received money from a foreign organization known as "Friends of Hamas." This quickly spread to other websites such as RedState and even appeared briefly on the Fox Business program Lou Dobbs Tonight. Former Arkansas Governor and current host Huckabee even referenced the report during a press conference he held in Israel on an "Israel Experience With Mike Huckabee" tour.
Devastating. If it could be corroborated by other sources it would sink the nomination of Hagel and deal a huge black eye to the Obama administration's second-term momentum.
As the story was further investigated, people found surprising things, or rather a surprising lack of things, regarding "Friends of Hamas." No website or forum could be found for the group. In fact, other news organizations were unable to find any record of the group existing. Both the Treasury Department, who designate organizations as sponsors of terror (as it has done to charities with connections to Hamas), and the State Department (who designate such groups as well), failed to have any record of such a group existing. In fact when the Atlantic Council, the organization that Hagel served on as chairperson and was accused of accepting this funding during his time there, released a list of donors, "Friends of Hamas" was nowhere to be found.
So where did this all come from? Turns out that it was all a lie. Dan Friedman of the New York Daily News is now claiming that he is the source of the initial rumor and that it came from a question that was intended to be a joke. In doing research for a story on Hagel and the difficulties he has faced in the nomination process, Friedman was talking to a Republican source. Friedman writes:
"Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the 'Junior League of Hezbollah, in France'? And: What about 'Friends of Hamas'?
The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them."
Apparently this was enough. After seeing the Breitbart story explode in the media, Friedman quickly contacted the source and asked if he had spoken with Ben Shapiro. The source denied it, but admitted that he might have spoken to others. However since the speech and the group are imaginary, it’s likely that no other reporter could confirm it, right? Friedman reached out to Shapiro got this response from him:
"The story as reported is correct. Whether the information I was given by the source is correct I am not sure."
In responding to Friedman’s piece, Shapiro attempts to blame the whole controversy on Friedman. Notably missing is an apology for printing an obviously false rumor. But in good news for Shapiro, a website for "Friends of Hamas" has emerged, although it does not have the smoking gun that he would probably like to have now.