UPDATE Tuesday, February 26:
The Hill reported Tuesday afternoon:
The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Pentagon chief in a 58-41 vote, ending the most contentious confirmation fight for a Defense secretary in U.S. history.
Only four Republicans backed Hagel, a former GOP senator from Nebraska whose controversial statements on Israel, Iran and other issues made him a lighting rod on the right and led to the first-ever filibuster of a nominee to lead the Pentagon. GOP Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Mike Johanns (Neb.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) voted to confirm Hagel.
by James M. Wall
One rumor in the anti-Chuck Hagel campaign started as a joking question that quickly swept through the right wing media machine until it reached Fox News business guru, Lou Dobbs.
It was such an outlandish charge that it should have been ignored and tossed into the “birther” trash can. The rumor “implied” that Hagel might have received funds from an organization called “Friends of Hamas”.
Dan Friedman, the New York Daily News reporter who inadvertently launched the “Friends of Hamas” rumor, was shocked to see how quickly a joking question he posed casually over the phone, went from nowhere to everywhere. He tells his sad tale in the Daily News:
On Febrary 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did [Chuck] Hagel’s Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed?
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.
Friedman was wrong.
The right wing media machine swung into action, sending Friedman’s joking question on its mission to destroy Hagel.
On Thursday, Senate sources told Breitbart News exclusively that they have been informed one of the reasons that President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has not turned over requested documents on his sources of foreign funding is that one of the names listed is a group purportedly called ‘Friends of Hamas.’Shapiro added that a White House spokesman hung up on him when he called for comment, an action Shapiro included in his story, buttressing “the assertion that the White House didn’t deny the claim”.
Shapiro tweeted the link to his Breitbart story to his nearly 40,000 Twitter followers. The joke had become a serious story, treated as such by commentators who did not check to see if it was true. Friedman reports what happened next:
Blogs like RedState.com and the National Review’s The Corner linked to it. In Israel, Mike Huckabee said “rumors of Chuck Hagel’s having received funds from Friends of Hamas,” would, if true, “disqualify him.”
On Monday, I reached my source. The person denied sharing my query with Breitbart but admitted the chance of having mentioned it to others.
When Friedman spoke to him on Tuesday, Shapiro acknowledged “Friends of Hamas” might not exist. But he said his story used “very, very specific language” to avoid flatly claiming it did. Friedman’s joking question had gone very, very wrong.
I am, it seems, the creator of the “Friends of Hamas” myth. Doing my job, I erred in counting on confidentiality and the understanding that my example was farcical — and by assuming no one would print an unchecked rumor.If anyone didn’t know already: Partisan agendas, Internet reporting and old-fashioned carelessness can move complete crocks fast. If you see a story on Hagel addressing the Junior League of Hezbollah, that’s fake too.
Rumors abound on Capitol Hill that a full disclosure of Hagel’s professional ties would reveal financial relationships with a number of “unsavory” groups, including one purportedly called “Friends of Hamas.” The GOP aide said it was “noteworthy” that the White House has yet to deny the association. “Maybe it’s not true, but why not provide a list of groups he spoke to and remove all doubt?” the aide said.
There’s no proof that “Friends of Hamas” actually exists. At best, it’s an organization so secret that nobody in government has thought to mention its existence. At worst, it’s as fake as Manti Te’o’s girlfriend.
MCCARTHY: There was a report that came out last week-not confirmed yet, but we’re [i.e., the White House] also not denying it very vigorously-that one of the groups behind the speeches may have been an outfit called Friends of Hamas. That is not going to-
DOBBS: That has a ring to it, doesn’t it?
Catchy, indeed, and entirely made up from a false rumor created out of a joking question. The rumor spread quickly because the right wing media machine wanted to promote a falsehood for political purposes. No one in that machine bothered to check out the story .
The Senate hearings on Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary will resume next week. The Armed Services Committee has approved the nomination on a party line vote, 14 to 12.
Democratic leaders in the Senate want to present the nomination before Wednesday, February 27, to the full Senate for a final confirmation.
Opponents of Hagel on the Republican side of the aisle continue to mumble against a wounded Viet Nam veteran with extensive government and business experience, purely on spurious grounds.
Hagel’s chief adversaries, John McCain and Lindsay Graham, appear however, to have given up any further thought of a filibuster against Hagel.
The sooner the better. The obvious fakery of the charges leveled against Hagel exposes the pettiness of Hagel’s opponents, both in the right wing media and in the increasingly hard-right leadership of the Republican party.
The photo of former Senator Hagel (above) is by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.