Who has time to fact-check when there’s an opportunity to make a political foe look bad?
When it comes to the right-wing blogosphere, it seems like there’s no advantage to getting the story straight if there’s potential for a flashy headline that can tarnish a Democrat. The most recent example came in the form of New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and a report from the conservative website, The Daily Caller, last November.
According to the report, Menendez hired two prostitutes while in the Dominican Republic with one of his high-profile campaign donors, Dr. Salomon Melgen. The women appeared in a video alleging that Menendez and his friend had paid them for sex.
Fast forward a few months, and the allegations have gotten murkier. The Washington Post reported Monday that one of the women who appeared in the video admitted that her account was false. The woman said a local lawyer had approached her and a fellow escort and asked them to help frame Menendez and Melgen, according to affidavits obtained by The Washington Post.
Here’s another example: On February 7, Breitbart News ran with a headline stating, “Secret Hagel Donor?: White House Spox Ducks Question on ‘Friends of Hamas’”.
Was Chuck Hagel really colluding with a terrorist organization and is there really a group called “Friends of Hamas”?
No. Even though Rand Paul and other Republicans latched onto the headline in an attempt to smear President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, it turns out the Breitbart story originated with a sarcastic joke from Daily News reporter, Dan Friedman, who was trying to do his own research on Hagel’s attitudes toward Israel.
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.
As Friedman later realized, his sarcasm was the basis for Ben Shapiro’s report. When Friedman got in touch with Ben Shapiro, the reporter behind the Breitbart story, he got a cryptic response. “The story as reported is correct,” said Shapiro. “Whether the information I was given by the source is correct, I am not sure.”
Now, on to case number three. You may have heard that the childhood home of Ronald Reagan, now on grounds owned by the University of Chicago, was being bulldozed in order to construct the presidential library of Barack Obama.
The report was factually inaccurate: there are no plans to raze Reagan’s home, and no decision yet on where President Obama’s presidential library will be located.