In recent weeks, conservative media and politicians have been up in arms over a speech Hagel allegedly gave to the group “Friends of Hamas.” Hagel is paling around with terrorists! they cried.
But according to Dan Friedman, a reporter with the New York Daily News, the speech never happened and “Friends of Hamas” doesn’t even exist, and never has.
“I know,” Friedman writes, “because I was the unwitting source.”
Here’s what happened: When rumors swirled that Hagel received speaking fees from controversial organizations, I attempted to check them out.
On Feb. 6, 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 then the fiction caught like wildfire and was picked up by conservative media. First it was Breitbart.com, and then others followed. Eventually Republican politicians trying to block Hagel’s nomination caught wind of the rumors.
Breitbart.com, for their part, is calling Friedman a liar. They deny he was the original source for their Hagel, Friends of Hamas story, and insist the group is real.
Dave Weigel at Slate reported almost a week ago that Friends of Hamas doesn’t exist. And the Breitbart reporter, Ben Shapiro, who first published the fake scandal and is stubbornly sticking by it never did his due diligence to check on that.
This looks like a lesson in the dangers of confirmation bias. Breitbart.com appeared so eager to get a scoop that they reported a baseless rumor without checking the facts like reporters are supposed to do. And because conservatives were so eager to crucify Hagel (for daring to dissent from the Republican line on foreign policy during the Bush years), they jumped on the rumor and it entered into temporary reality, before the faithful were so rudely awakened by the truth.