Last week, Breitbart.com Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro, citing Senate sources, claimed that "one of the reasons that President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has not turned over requested documents on his sources of foreign funding is that one of the names listed is a group purportedly called 'Friends of Hamas.'"
Within days, the terrifying name was on the lips of every right-wing blogger and media personality in the country. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called Hagel's purported involvement "very troubling." "Friends of Hamas"! What is it? Who's behind it? And why is Chuck Hagel hiding his involvement?
As it turns out, the answer to those questions, in order, is: a tossed-off joke; Daily News reporter Dan Friedman; and because it's a nonexistent group that Shapiro got suckered into believing.
Today, Friedman took to the Daily News to admit: "I am, it seems, the creator of the Friends of Hamas myth." Friedman says he called up a Republican source to get some dirt on Hagel, only to find out a few days later that he'd become Deep Throat:
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. [...]
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'"
Despite Friedman's story, and the compelling wrinkle that Friends of Hamas is not actually real, Shapiro stands by his reporting: "The story as reported is correct," Shapiro told Friedman. "Whether the information I was given by the source is correct I am not sure." Shapiro claims he has a different source than Friedman, and writes in a response today that his source has "three different sources"; Friedman says his source "denied sharing my query with Breitbart but admitted the chance of having mentioned it to others."
But if Friends of Hamas is really a "myth," why does it have a website at FriendsofHamas.com?
Now, admittedly, I made the website this morning. But I'm not saying that Friends of Hamas definitely exists. I'm just asking questions! Why does this website, which I made, exist, if Friends of Hamas doesn't exist? Why haven't Chuck Hagel and the White House commented on the issue of the website I made? What does Hagel have to hide? Is the reason he refuses to release his records because he has visited the Friends of Hamas official website, webmaster: me? Isn't it possible that Friends of Hamas exists? And if I can imagine Friends of Hamas to exist, isn't that the same thing as it actually existing, philosophically? When you really think about it?
This story, as reported, is correct. As Shapiro says, "after all, this is the most easily debunked story in the world: all Chuck Hagel has to do is release his records."