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Friday, December 9, 2016

Last Friday, in “This Week In Crazy,” our own Henry Decker told you how Ben Shapiro, Editor-at-Large of Breitbart News, set off a media firestorm by linking President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, to a group called “Friends of Hamas.”

The only problem was that the group doesn’t exist.

So where did the story come from? Is Breitbart playing Mad Libs, or maybe throwing darts at names on a board?

The answer to this question may provide some excellent insight into the world of right-wing media, where baseless accusations quickly become headlines.

In Wednesday’s New York Daily News, reporter Dan Friedman explains how his joking questions to a Senate aide might be the basis of the ALL-CAPS headline that appeared on Breitbart on February 7:

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.

Or so I thought.

The aide promised to get back to me. I followed up with an email, as a reminder: “Did he get $25K speaking fee from Friends of Hamas?” I asked.

Andrew Breitbart, the deceased founder of the site, would likely be proud of this journalism-by-accusation. It made him very famous. But what’s most troubling about this story, if true, is the complicity between the staffs of respected Republicans in spreading unfounded rumors to right-wing sites not known for their veracity. And neither party did the simple LexisNexis search it would have taken to verify that this group actually exists.

Shapiro is the author of a book called Bullies, which attempts to flip the notion that the left stands up for oppressed people into the idea that the defenders of the richest 1 percent are actually the ones being bullied. That’s pretty hilarious, especially because spreading unfounded rumors designed to defame the vulnerable is the first trick middle-school bullies learn.

Now Shapiro will say the backlash he’s receiving for his false story is just more bullying. And he’ll sell more books. Because for the right wing in America, being a “victim” of legitimate criticism isn’t embarrassing, it’s a business model.

UPDATE: Ben Shapiro’s super-reliable and secret source tells him that Dan Friedman was not the source of the “Friends of Hamas” story. The original “Friends of Hamas” story remains on the Breitbart site uncorrected. We’re not linking to either post, for obvious reasons.

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