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?
Now Breitbart.com has been caught in their own “too good to check” fiasco -- one that had greater ramifications than the employment prospects of a former vice presidential candidate. Instead of explaining how it happened, who edited Shapiro's piece, and the attendant disciplinary actions Shapiro might face (the same accountability standards Nolte demanded of the Post), the conservative news outlet is flailing at Hagel, Weigel, and the New York Daily News, and refusing to acknowledge that Shapiro's story is false.
Shapiro claims that Friedman is lying about being the source of “Friends of Hamas” because Shapiro's own source claims to have “received this information from three separate sources, none of whom was Friedman.” Friedman, for his part, never said that he spoke to the person who passed the “Friends of Hamas” rumor directly to Shapiro; he merely reported that he had mentioned the invented group to a GOP source, who has since acknowledged passing it on to other partisans, and hypothesized that the rumor subsequently reached Shapiro. Weigel points out that Shapiro's original report cited “Senate sources,” not the single source to which he now traces “Friends of Hamas,” and Shapiro is just running interference for a source that is clearly lying to him.
All of that, however, is incidental to the key fact that “Friends of Hamas,” by every indication, does not exist, and Shapiro didn't bother to do the necessary fact-checking that would have disproved the story. That's the only fact that matters with regard to this story, and Breitbart.com is doing everything they can to avoid acknowledging it.
Indeed, Shapiro is still asserting his own accuracy and demanding that Hagel release records proving that he has no links to “Friends of Hamas” -- a group that is not real:
The story Breitbart News ran originally was accurate and clearly caveated. Dan Friedman was not the source of the information given to Breitbart News. But the media is already jumping to help Friedman push his narrative. It's all part of the mission to protect Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel. Because, after all, this is the most easily debunked story in the world: all Chuck Hagel has to do is release his records.
Meanwhile, Nolte is attacking Weigel for opposing the effort to “fully vet” Hagel, which is absurdly ironic since Weigel, in doing the bare minimum of digging required to debunk the story, has done far more investigating than everyone at Breitbart.com.
Insisting upon unfailing accuracy from the rest of the media is fine, so long as you hold yourself to those same standards. But Breitbart.com has no interest in following their own rules, or getting the story right.