Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How An Over-The-Top Joke Became A Republican Talking Point Against Chuck Hagel

A journalist with the New York Daily News has come forward as the unintentional source for a rumor that Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel was receiving funding from the non-existent “Friends of Hamas” group.

Hagel has faced an uphill battle towards confirmation since his nomination in January, a battle aided by the unprecedented amount of falsehoods surrounding Hagel’s record and finances. One of those rumors, that Hagel was hiding funding from groups with anti-Israeli ties called the “Friends of Hamas.” Dan Friedman of the New York Daily News believes that he first coined the name, when asking a Republican Congressional aide about potentially controversial groups that Hagel had addressed previously addressed and from whom he had received speaking fees:

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. [...]

The aide promised to get back to me. I followed up with an e-mail, as a reminder: “Did he get $25K speaking fee from Friends of Hamas?” I asked.

Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a confidential question soon escaped into the right-wing ether. The name “Friends of Hamas” was picked up by members of the right-wing blogosphere — starting with Breitbart News on Feb. 7 — and expanded outward rapidly. Appearing on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show, National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy brought up the mythical group as an example of what might be lurking in Hagel’s history.

The name continued to circulate until Slate’s Dave Weigel published a piece firmly establishing that the group doesn’t exist last week. If the rumor-mongering was limited to conservative blogs, it wouldn’t be as worrisome. Unfortunately, prominent Republicans have been all too keen to go along with the line of questioning started by Breitbart.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was strongly rebuked by his Senate colleagues for his lobbing claims — completely void of evidence — that Hagel had received money from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and North Korea that he was hiding from the Senate Armed Services Committee. While visiting Israel, former Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that if Hagel’s ties to “Friends of Hamas” proved true, it would “disqualify” Hagel from being Secretary of Defense. Likewise, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in a radio interview indicated that the “Friends of Hamas” was just part of a string of new information that was “more and more concerning.”

All of this has yet to prevent Hagel from having locked-up the majority vote necessary to be confirmed when the Senate returns next week — as soon as the Republicans drop the filibuster they started to prevent such an up-or-down vote from occurring.


Ben Shapiro, Editor-in-Chief at Breitbart, is sticking with the “Friends of Hamas” story, attacking Dan Friedman and “the media” while never acknowledging that the group doesn’t exist:

Since the original “Friends of Hamas” story was written, the media has downplayed or ignored the myriad of borderline anti-Semitic Hagel comments regarding Iran and the State of Israel, as well as the “Jewish lobby.” They have deliberately obstructed news coverage of Hagel’s well-documented supported base among friends of Hamas. Instead of asking Hagel to release the requested documents, the media has attacked Breitbart News.

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