On February 7, Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro reported that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel (according to "Senate sources") received money from a group called "Friends of Hamas." The report spread quickly through the conservative media as damning of Hagel, until Dave Weigel at Slate.com pointed out a salient fact -- there's no evidence that "Friends of Hamas" exists. Now, New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman is claiming that a joke he shared with a GOP source is the provenance of "Friends of Hamas." In response to their story falling apart, Shapiro and Breitbart.com -- who angrily and self-righteously demand accountability from the rest of the media for every slip-up, real or imagined -- are lashing out and refusing to accept responsibility for publishing a report based on a falsehood.
Before getting into Shapiro's defense of himself for running with the "Friends of Hamas" rumor, it's worth looking at how Breitbart.com treats other media outlets that print stories that end up being untrue. A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post blogger Suzi Parker reported that Sarah Palin, newly free of her Fox News contract, had signed on with Al Jazeera. The story was not true: Parker had picked it up from the Daily Currant, a parody news site, and the Post issued a correction. Breitbart.com's John Nolte ripped into Parker in a February 12 post, letting fly with a barrage of sexist invective ("isn't she precious?") and slamming her journalistic acumen:
But never one to let facts get in the way of a good Narrative, the "we-meant-to-do-that" Post merely added a correction, changed the headline to "Sarah Palin tries to stay relevant," scrubbed the Al-Jazeera references (the original post can be read here), and still ripped Palin for, uhm, being so desperate to stay relevant.
If Parker had a shred of self-awareness, integrity, and dignity, she would have changed the headline to "Too Good To Check," and under it posted an essay about how shallow, smug, bitterly angry partisanship can blind you to common sense.
But that would require having a soul to search.
Nolte was back at it a few days later, demanding that Post media writer Erik Wemple investigate the Parker-Palin screw-up and attacking the Post's "too good to check" mentality:
If Suzi Parker had the power to publish on her own, it's understandable that someone so bitter and joyless could believe what she so desperately wants to believe. But thanks to the Post's own ombudsmen, we now know a Post editor also fell into "too good to check" mode.
Because Parker and this editor obviously didn't know the Daily Currant is a parody site, that means they published a story based on information from a site with which they were unfamiliar. How did that happen? Who was the editor? Has any disciplinary action been taken?
If you want to appreciate how vast the digital divide is that historically separates conservative failures and liberal accomplishments online, and if you want to add some context to the recent New York Times Magazine feature article on how Republicans' chronic online shortcomings dim the party's electoral chances, just look at how the two camps were marking their time in recent days.
Working with Republicans on Capitol Hill trying to block Chuck Hagel's nomination to become Secretary of Defense, Breitbart's Ben Shapiro recently posted a report suggesting Hagel had allegedly received "foreign funding" over the years from a terrorist-friendly group called Friends of Hamas, but that the payments were being kept secret. The allegation served as part of the right wing's relentless campaign to smear Hagel as being anti-Israel.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy, and AM talker Hugh Hewitt all hyped Breitbart's conspiratorial narrative about Hagel's nefarious connections with Friends of Hamas.
Slight problem. Last week, Slate's David Weigel detailed how Friends of Hamas doesn't actually exist. And as New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman explained, he unwittingly started the Friends of Hamas rumor when he posed the Hagel question to a GOP aide in the form of "an obvious joke." According to Friedman, he asked about both Friends of Hamas and the "Junior League of Hezbollah," and thought that 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."
The GOP aide then apparently shared the Friends of Hamas inquiry with other partisans and Friedman posits that from there it found its way to Breitbart, which published it in the form of "news" under Shapiro's byline. Tellingly, the fact that the scary sounding group doesn't exist didn't stop a right-wing site from pushing the tall tale; a tale that quickly ricocheted across the conservative media landscape and was touted as a Deeply Troubling Development.
It was against that backdrop of routine right-wing dysfunction that the Times published its lengthy article. Author Robert Draper argued -- and many Republican operatives agreed -- that the GOP's perennial online failures have made it almost impossible for the party to communicate effectively with younger voters; voters who have developed a deeply hostile perception of the GOP brand. (i.e. "Polarizing," "narrow-minded.") Draper didn't make reference to the Friends of Hamas debacle, but it could have served as a useful example of how routinely unserious online pursuits have become among Republican boosters.
After Time magazine announced that Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who advocated for reproductive health coverage, would be one of 40 candidates for its "Person of the Year" award, the right-wing media reacted with vicious attacks on Fluke. The right-wing media have consistently attacked Fluke since Rush Limbaugh responded to her congressional testimony earlier in the year by calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute."
In the wake of President Obama's re-election, right-wing media outlets and figures compared the president to a dictator, called for a revolution, and baselessly suggested impeachment.
During the October 22 presidential debate, conservative media took to Twitter to launch personal attacks against President Obama in an attempt to criticize his performance and distract from Mitt Romney's lies.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter referred to Obama as "the retard":
Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes wrote, "Seems to me President Obama's condescension has crossed the line from aggressive to disrespectful. Will voters like him mocking Romney?"
Media figures cheered Republican Mitt Romney's performance in the first presidential debate, claiming he offered specifics and an economic plan to contrast with that of President Obama. In fact, independent analysis shows Romney provided vague details at best.
Right-wing media outlets are pushing dubious allegations to attack Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the violence that claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. But the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has poured cold water on the attack.
[T]he US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted."
Breitbart.com editor Ben Shapiro even used the report to call for Clinton's resignation, saying: "The details are so explosive that they will result in a Congressional investigation. In fact, they're so explosive that they should result in the resignation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
The Drudge Report linked to the same Independent article under a picture of Clinton with the headline "Paper: U.S. warned of embassy attack, but did nothing."
Fox News also hyped the charge that Clinton had advanced warning of the attacks. Fox & Friends guest co-host Eric Bolling said: "You have to wonder. Hillary Clinton came on September 12 and she came on September 13 and she said, you know -- denouncing the attacks and whatnot. But why was she on twice saying the exact same thing? Maybe, maybe we did have advanced knowledge of these protests and attacks coming."
But later on Fox, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) showed why right-wing media should not have jumped on this one thinly-sourced report so quickly. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Rogers about the Independent report. Rogers responded: "As chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I have seen nothing yet that indicates that they had information that could have prevented the event." He added:
ROGERS: That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I just haven't seen it yet, and we should be cautious about that. There's a difference between having lots of information flowing in, which we've had over months about the trouble that was brewing, especially Al Qaeda in the Maghreb looking for Western targets to strike -- the Maghreb being the northern part of Africa. So we knew that there was at least an interest in violence. This is the same site in Benghazi that had been attacked by an IED a couple months prior to that event. So we knew that there should have been a heightened level of security just for those reasons.
Right-wing media have reacted to the Supreme Court's ruling upholding President Obama's health care law by claiming it is "a dark day for freedom" and "the end of America as we know it." But the decision allows the health care law to implement reforms that will protect and extend affordable insurance coverage to millions of Americans.
In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, right-wing media figures claimed Chief Justice Roberts' decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act shows that he's liberal. But Roberts' recognizing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act doesn't change his record as presiding over the most conservative and corporate-friendly court in recent history.
Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as constitutional. Right-wing media figures immediately began venting on Twitter. Here is an hour's worth of the worst right-wing ranting about the Supreme Court decision after it was announced:
A recent Federal Reserve study found that the wealth gap increased during the recent recession with the median net worth of the wealthiest Americans increasing between 2007 and 2010, while the median net worth for all Americans decreased. But right-wing media have ignored or misrepresented this aspect of the report in order to attack President Obama.
Yesterday, the Breitbart empire stepped up to the plate, called their shot, swung, missed, hit themselves in the face with the bat, then took a triumphant trot around the bases as spectators looked on with piteous and mocking wonder.
Hug-gate, as it quickly came to be called, was the big story the Breitbart people had been teasing for weeks now -- a videotaped hug between then-Harvard Law student Barack Obama and the late Harvard professor Derrick Bell at a 1991 protest supporting Bell's push to have a woman of color offered tenure at the school. Why the controversy? Because Bell, per the Breitbart indictment, is a dangerous radical who, in the act of pressing his body to the young Obama's, imparted to him all the insane radicalism that now animates the moderate liberal currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
As Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro put it, in characteristically grandiose fashion: "This is just the beginning. And this video, in its entirety, is the smoking gun showing that Barack Obama not only associated with radicals but believed deeply in their principles - and wanted the rest of us to believe in them, too."
The problems with the story stack high. 1) The video has been online since 2008 and snippets of it were included in a PBS special on the '08 election; 2) David Remnick wrote specifically about Obama's speech about Bell in The Bridge and even noted on page 214 that "his speech concluded, he hugged [Bell] in front of a cheering crowd"; 3) The NY Times reported on Obama's praise for Bell at the rally in 2007; 4) Buzzfeed obtained the video and published it yesterday morning, squashing the Breitbart "scoop"; 5) Derrick Bell was a respected academic, an influential figure in the Civil Rights movement, and nowhere near the dangerous frothing radical the Breitbart team would have us believe; 6) Even if Bell were a dangerous radical, they present zero evidence whatsoever that Obama "believed deeply" in Bell's alleged radicalism; and 7) A hug? Seriously?
That's embarrassing enough, but remember: this is BIG Journalism. And when the journalism is this big, you have to go deeper.
Right-wing media are demonizing the National Council of La Raza in order to object to President Obama's recent appointment of Cecilia Muñoz as director of the Domestic Policy Council, accusing the organization of being an "amnesty" group with "racist" ties. These attacks are not new: Conservatives have long described the civil rights group as "the Ku Klux Klan Of The Hispanic People."
In a post on Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com touting a book titled A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred by Sol Stern, Ben Shapiro wrote that President Obama is not an actual Muslim but "an ideological Muslim in the same way Hillary Clinton was an ideological lesbian in her college days."
From Shapiro's post:
Sol is very kind when he writes that President Obama's motives are unclear with regard to his ideological support for Mahmoud Abbas' odd iteration of the Palestinian state-to-be. His motives are absolutely clear. President Obama is not who New York Magazine pretends he is -- he is our first ideologically Muslim president.
That doesn't mean he's a Muslim -- far from it (he's an atheist). He is, however, an ideological Muslim in the same way Hillary Clinton was an ideological lesbian in her college days -- he believes in the geopolitical perspective of the Muslim world, namely that the United States and Israel are responsible for all evil and that if Israel had never existed, the world would be a better place.
The right-wing media is sure that President Obama betrayed Israel and "sided with the terrorists" with his restatement of U.S. policy that the Israelis and Palestinians should come to a peace agreement that results in a "secure Israel" and "viable Palestine" with "borders ... based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."
But a funny thing happened. American Jews -- 78 percent of whom voted for Obama in the 2008 election -- didn't immediately rise up against the president. So the conservative media found their next target for attack: American Jews.
On May 23, Glenn Beck called Obama's statement an "absolute betrayal" but said "the Jewish community seems to be giving him a pass yet again ... How is that possible?" One of his sidekicks said the reaction of the Jewish community was "unbelievable."
On May 26, Ben Shapiro published a piece on CNS News arguing that Jews who support Obama are "Jews In Name Only." Shapiro wrote:
In 2008, Obama grabbed 78 percent of the Jewish vote. Even the most wildly optimistic polling today shows that Obama's support remains high among Jews. It's a result that Republicans simply can't understand - why do so many Jews continue to support a president who has shown time and again that he stands against the State of Israel?
The answer is deceptively simple: the Jews who vote for Obama are, by and large, Jews In Name Only (JINOs). They eat bagels and lox; they watch "Schindler's List"; they visit temple on Yom Kippur - sometimes. But they do not care about Israel. Or if they do, they care about it less than abortion, gay marriage and global warming.
And then on May 27, on Andrew Breitbart's BigPeace.com, blogger Dan Friedman trumpeted a Jerusalem Post poll finding low support for President Obama in Israel and declared that "Israeli Jews [Are] Not Nearly As Sick As USA Jews." (I wonder whether Friedman will also turn on Israeli Jews when he sees a Haaretz poll of Israelis finding that "only 20 percent saw [Obama] as hostile" compared to 43 percent who found him "businesslike" and "a quarter [who] described him as friendly.")
American Jews aren't buying the right-wing media's alarmism about Obama's views on Israel, and these media figures would rather attack the Jews than rethink their own arguments.