Something more ridiculous than usual happened this morning. After nearly a week of blessed quiet, Daily News writer Dan Friedman let it slide that he believed himself to be the source of a discredited story about Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s defense secretary nominee, which involved Hagel being paid $25K to deliver a speech to a group called “Friends of Hamas” that didn’t actually exist.
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.
Naturally, the story broke big on conservative websites, led first by Ben Shapiro of Breitbart with the alarming title: SECRET HAGEL DONOR?: WHITE HOUSE SPOX DUCKS QUESTION ON ‘FRIENDS OF HAMAS’ before wending its way away across the blogosphere.
The story was knocked down soon after some reasonable thinking people pointed out that this group didn’t actually exist. But by this point, it hardly mattered; conspiracy theorists had created such an environment of Hagel paranoia that this story made it out to masses anyway without many shrugs. The problem is that sideshows like this have obscured what are real and valid concerns about Hagel’s worthiness for a vital post. Naturally, by 10:30 this morning, there was already a Friends of Hamas website up and running, poking fun at the scandal.
With any hope, Hagel’s months-long dance with the nomination process will end with a vote either to finally confirm or deny him in the coming days. If it doesn’t, I’m not sure American democracy will survive it.