Heard of Friends Of Hamas, the group Secretary of Defense presidential appointee Chuck Hagel allegedly took money from in a paid speaking gig? Neither had New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman, until he quipped about it as he looked into Hagel’s background.
While the Friends Of Hamas group was a simple illustrative gag employed by Friedman and clearly verifiable as false, it didn’t stop Breitbart.com and much of the conservative blogosphere from running with the “claim” as if it were chiseled into two stone tablets, in a time where rumor gleans more pageviews than the boring truth.
The horrifying Friends Of Hamas trajectory was revealed this morning in a NYDN column penned by Friedman, in which he drills down on the rumor, his role in it, and its possible real effects on the political process due to a political blogging trend that allows imagination the same credence it does actual sourcing.
Friedman’s Friends Of Hamas tale is a doozy, and one that reveals everything that is wrong with certain news organizations and how and why they report the way they do. In today’s piece, the Washington beat reporter explains how the joke quickly spun out of control, writing:
“When rumors swirled that Hagel received speaking fees from controversial organizations, I attempted to check them out … I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did 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.”
But Friedman’s quips were indeed taken seriously, with Breitbart picking up and running with the Friends Of Hamas yarn. Commenters on the site swallowed the spurious claim with nary a hint of skepticism, and comments on the piece were mostly in the vein of this, taken from the section for reader feedback (spelling and grammar intact) on Ben Shapiro’s Friends Of Hamas story:
“No wonder Obama wants him…, this is getting scary it says a lot about Obama!”
” … don’t think Tom Clancy could make this stuff up . Had enough yet America ? The problem is if hagel is outed odummer will just appoint someone more from the left and even more incompetent. maybe he will appoint weiner or maxine waters. Or jesse jr. or the reverend al. this is unreal. The world is laughing at America, Putin is licking his chops waiting to get odummer to disarm and let them take over the space race. Now that NASA is a muslim outreach seminar sponsor.”
It wasn’t just Breitbart readers that failed to exercise critical thinking when it came to the Friends Of Hamas brouhaha and Chuck Hagel. Mike Huckabee commented on the made-up fairy tale as if it were credible, and Friedman reports:
“Shapiro tweeted the link to his nearly 40,000 Twitter followers. 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.” “
Well, surely Breitbart corrected the post to reflect that the Friends Of Hamas claim emerged from Ben Shapiro’s fevered imaginings based on a joke, right? Wrong. Friedman adds:
“The story as reported is correct. Whether the information I was given by the source is correct I am not sure.”
For his part, Shapiro has doubled down on the claim, and denies Friedman was the source for the Friends Of Hamas Chuck Hagel piece, blogging and tweeting about the brewing credibility controversy:
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 20, 2013
Did you see Chuck Hagel’s alleged Friends Of Hamas involvement reported as credible across the blogosphere before the truth started getting its boots on?