Wildfire

Speaking of contemporary standards of conservative behavior and McCarthyite tactics, remember when the people trying to destroy Chuck Hagel were shouting about “reports” that the Nebraskan had once spoken to a group called “Friends of Hamas?” In the process of reporting that the group didn’t appear to exist, Dave Weigel noted how rapidly the claim spread after it was published by Breitbart.com’s Ben Shapiro:

It caught fire on the right in no time. “That is quite the accusation,” wrote Moe Lane at RedState. “All they have to do to debunk it is to have Hagel reveal his foreign donors.” In the National Review, Andrew Stiles reported that “rumors abound on Capitol Hill that a full disclosure of Hagel’s professional ties would reveal financial relationships with a number of ‘unsavory’ groups, including one purportedly called ‘Friends of Hamas.'” Arutz Sheva and Algemeiner, conservative pro-Israel news organizations, ran versions of the story based 100 percent on links to the Shapiro original.

As Salon‘s Alex Pareene commented, that’s all it took:

[I]n case you were wondering, if you want to viciously smear someone, all you have to do is send a stupid lie to a Breitbart guy and he will publish it and then everyone in the conservative movement will repeat it.

But it gets worse: turns out New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman has come forward to say he invented the “Friends of Hamas” bit in a conversation with a Republican Hill staffer as an example of a theoretical Hagel association so obviously fictitious that it never occurred to him anyone would take it seriously. Next thing he knew, it was everywhere, spreading like wild fire.

So I’ll return to the conclusion of my last post: can you imagine how destructive Joe McCarthy would have been had anything like today’s right-wing echo chamber existed in the his day?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.