Chuck Hagel is still waiting for the Senate to vote on his bid to become defense secretary, after a brutal confirmation hearing that saw Republicans attack his alleged connections to "extreme and radical groups." It's perhaps no surprise, then, that a new poll from Pew shows that Hagel's favorability ratings are down, which has prompted a fair amount of jubilation among the anti-Hagel contingent. However, at least one charge against Hagel appears to be totally false, reinforcing Democratic claims that the decorated war hero has been the victim of a rightwing smear campaign.
The conservative press, led by Breitbart.com, circulated rumors that Hagel received funding from a shadowy group called "Friends of Hamas," which would be quite damaging given that the U.S. government considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Reporters have subsequently questioned whether Friends of Hamas even exists, and now Dan Friedman at the New York Daily News reports that he himself was the source for the Friends of Hamas rumor — which was meant to be a joke. Says Friedman:
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. [Daily News]
Days later, Breitbart ran an anti-Hagel story with the headline: "Secret Hagel donor?: White House spox ducks questions on 'Friends of Hamas.'"
The Friends of Hamas meme wasn't contained to Breitbart. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he was concerned about the report. So did former Arkansas governor and current Fox News host Mike Huckabee. Rich Lowry at the conservative National Review says his publication treated the rumor "conditionally and with grains of salt," but that appears to be contradicted in this report by Andrew McCarthy:
As John notes, Ben Shapiro has reported at the Breitbart site Big Peace that one of Hagel's funding sources is a group purportedly called "Friends of Hamas." That might make someone a good fit for president of Egypt, prime minister of Turkey, or any number of advisory posts on the White House staff. But given that being a "friend of Hamas" — at least the kind of friend who provides material support to that terrorist organization — is a crime in the United States, it may not be quite what the Senate is looking for in a secretary of defense. [National Review]
Of course, the Friends of Hamas debacle, which allegedly involved a Capitol Hill aide funneling spurious claims to conservative outlets, will only reinforce the liberal perception that many conservative news outlets are little more than a propaganda machine for the Republican Party.
For the record, Breitbart claims that Friedman was not the source for the story, though that obviously doesn't make Friends of Hamas any more real.