Never underestimate the power of gossip, especially when partisan biases and the Internet are involved.
Remember that nasty rumor circulating around several right-wing websites suggesting that Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense was blocked in part because of his involvement with a shady organization called “Friends of Hamas?”
So how did such a wild rumor get started? Purely unwittingly, claims New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman, who insists that he was the inadvertent source of the pseudo-scandal.
As Friedman explains:
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 people did take it seriously. So much so that by the next day–Feb. 7–the right-wing website Brietbart.com was sporting this headline: “Secret Hagel Donor?: White House Spox Ducks Question on ‘Friends of Hamas.’”
The scoop caught fire, and “Friends of Hamas” began to spread all over the Internet, appearing on sites like RedState, National Review, and Arutz Sheva, among others. Soon the rumor made it to Capitol Hill, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.—who endorsed a filibuster of Hagel’s nomination—said he found the information regarding “Friends of Hamas,” “more and more concerning.”
The problem was, all of these news organizations were citing that first Brietbart.com article, which only attributed its information to “Senate sources.” Once Weigel revealed that “Friends of Hamas” was merely a phony organization with a scary-sounding name, Friedman reached out to both his source and to Ben Shapiro, the author of the Brietbart article.
Friedman’s source denied sharing the “Friends of Hamas” line with Brietbart.com, but admitted mentioning it to others, breaching confidentiality. Even scarier was the reaction from Shapiro, who told Friedman on Tuesday that though “Friends of Hamas” might not exist, he used “very, very specific language” to avoid claiming that it did. “The story as reported is correct,” said Shapiro. “Whether the information I was given by the source is correct, I am not sure.”
Shapiro continued his defense on Wednesday, writing that his Senate source received information about “Friends of Hamas” from three separate sources, none of whom were Friedman. But given that Friedman’s source admitted to sharing their conversation with others, it’s entirely possible that Shapiro’s source could have heard the rumor from multiple people.
For more on how a sarcastic joke morphed into a right-wing attack on Chuck Hagel, check out the Hardball Side Show!