In recent weeks, you may have heard a lot of disturbing stories about Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to head the Pentagon. Like the one about Hagel receiving money from a sinister-sounding group called "Friends of Hamas," an organization that the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. Or how Hagel once gave a speech to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in which he made anti-Semitic statements.
These stories have enjoyed wide circulation in the far-right press, and have even trickled up to the mouths of prominent Republican politicians. They help explain the GOP's furious opposition to Hagel, whose nomination is currently stalled in what amounts to the first-ever filibuster of a Cabinet nominee who has the support of a majority of the Senate. There are plenty of arguably legitimate reasons that Republicans might have to oppose Hagel. But the roots of many of the party's stated contentions lie in preconceptions that are thinly based in fact. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) has questioned whether Hagel has received payments from "extreme and radical groups." Sen. James Ihhofe (Okla.) has suggested that Hagel is "cozy" with Iran. (This might be a good time to remind readers that Hagel is not a leftist of the Che Guevara mold, but a former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska and a decorated war veteran.)
So is there any basis to the stories whirling around conservative media? David Weigel at Slate has done some investigative work on "Friends of Hamas," which has been flagged as a worrisome Hagel connection by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and numerous members of the conservative press, including Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy. The result? "There's no proof that 'Friends of Hamas' actually exists," says Weigel.
How about that anti-Semitic speech in 2008 at the ADC? Dylan Byers at Politico has posted video of the speech, which ADC spokesman Abed Ayoub described thusly: "It is just a general conversation about activism, a look forward at the challenges facing the next administration that took place as the race was heating up between Obama and McCain." Byers writes that the speech has been the source of all kinds of heated speculation on Fox News, The Weekly Standard, and Breitbart.com, which say that the speech should have been submitted to the Armed Services Committee as part of Hagel's confirmation. The ADC, for its part, claims that it's been harassed by members of the conservative paper the Washington Free Beacon. "In fact, the FBI was in here last week because of those type of threats," said Ayoub.
There are more such stories. Indeed, there are so many "reports" containing allegedly devastating revelations about Hagel that they have become the source of mockery:
Never seen before video of Chuck Hagel making shocking remarks goo.gl/yxVk1
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) February 14, 2013
Still, the conspiracy-laden anti-Hagel articles in the conservative press enjoy a healthy life, thanks in no small part to conservative columnists like Jennifer Rubin, who has used her perch at The Washington Post to disseminate a string of conspiracy-tinged diatribes against Hagel. In Rubin's view, even speaking to the ADC is a crime (because she says they support Islamic extremist groups), even though the likes of Colin Powell and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) have spoken at the ADC as well.
Some conservative commentators say Senate Republicans may suffer blowback for indulging in spurious attacks. "No one outside of a small core of hard-liners sympathizes with what the Senate Republicans are doing," says Daniel Larison at The American Conservative. "While they may not be losing any votes over this, they are making sure that all of the moderates, independents, and realists that they have alienated over the last ten years will keep running away from them. Except for dedicated partisans, no one can look at the display most Senate Republicans have put on over the last eight weeks and conclude that these people should be in the majority."