The most fascinating behind-the-curtains look at political reporting you’ll read all day:
Last week I noted how Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro reported on a story that Chuck Hagel was in bed with those notorious terrorist sympathizers, Friends of Hamas – and how it turned out that the group didn’t actually exist.
Today I came across this post by the New York Daily News’s Dan Friedman, whose wisecrack to a Congressional staffer seems to have been the source for the fictional event that has now become a talking-point staple in the conservative media machine:
“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.
The source never responded, and I moved on.
I couldn’t have imagined what would happen next. On Feb. 7, the conservative web site Breitbart.com screamed this headline:
“SECRET HAGEL DONOR?: WHITE HOUSE SPOX DUCKS QUESTION ON ‘FRIENDS OF HAMAS’”
I am, it seems, the creator of the Friends of Hamas myth. Doing my job, I erred in counting on confidentiality and the understanding that my example was farcical — and by assuming no one would print an unchecked rumor.
If anyone didn’t know already: Partisan agendas, Internet reporting and old-fashioned carelessness can move complete crocks fast. If you see a story on Hagel addressing the Junior League of Hezbollah, that’s fake too.”
(There’s also an interesting bit about how Breitbart turned a White House staffer’s predictable response to a call from Shapiro about Friends of Hamas into a breathless “the White House refuses to respond.”)
So, just to be clear about how this whole The-Age-of-the-Internet-Is-Saving-Journalism thing is going, events transpired thus:
1. Quirky reporter makes up a silly joke name and uses it when talking to a Congressional staffer.
2. Said staffer either can’t tell that it’s a joke or cynically pretends to not be able to tell; he or she then not only passes the silly-named fake group on to a well-known, online political blogger, but adds a manufactured claim that said silly-named fake group is in bed with the nominee for Secretary of Defense.
2. Well-known online political blogger doesn’t bother wondering why silly-named fake group would have such a ridiculous name, or bother doing even the most simple internet search to find out more about the group; instead, he just reports it.
3. Rightwing media begins reporting on the story, incredibly continuing to never check to see if a group with such a silly, farcical name actually exists – or apparently even attempt to find out anything else about the group other than it has a silly name and is said to be tied to Obama’s SoD pick. (Seriously, if you are a reporter looking to tank a president you’ve been trying to oust for going on four years now, and you heard his SoD nominee was palling around with a “well known” terrorist funding group, how are you not motivated enough to pick up a phone to get a quote or turn your computer on to do a quick Nexus search? Is reporting that dead?)
4. The story is finally shown to be a complete (and literal) joke. The original source that reported it does not issue a correction; the media outlets previously running with the story continue to do so.
So, this is the awesome new world of journalism I’m supposed to be excited about?