David Frum

02.23.13

Conservative Post-Truth Journalism Harms Conservatism

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images ()

My latest National Post column is dedicated to post-truth conservatives such as the staff of Breitbart.com, who recently made a national laughingstock of their fellow conservatives.

Again and again, the conservative entertainment complex in the United States has done harm to real-world conservative politics. This past week, they did something even worse than harmful: They made real-world conservatives a national laughingstock.

The occasion for the humiliation is the debate over the pending nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Many conservatives have objected to Hagel — a former U.S. senator from Nebraska — on three main grounds:

1) Hagel has been a scathing critic of the state of Israel and Israel’s supporters in the United States. As Secretary of Defense, he will likely bring new tensions to an already stressed US-Israel relationship;

2) Hagel has put himself on the public record opposing military action against Iran, a record that will detract from U.S. credibility when President Obama insists “all options are on the table”; and

3) Conservatives worry that Obama chose a former Republican to put a false bipartisan gloss on impending large cuts in the defense budget.

Agree or disagree, these are all serious and important concerns about the person who will likely head the U.S. military for the next four years. But somebody decided those concerns were not exciting enough. On February 7, a conservative news site, Breitbart.com, posted this breathless news:

“On Thursday, Senate sources told Breitbart News exclusively that they have been informed 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.’”

If true, that would be staggering information. But, of course, the story rapidly proved not to be true. There is no such group as “Friends of Hamas” operating in the United States. (Actual “friends” of Hamas, which is a terrorist group, usually make some effort to go incognito.)

The story reported by Breitbart.com had originated as a joke by Dan Friedman, a reporter for the New York Daily News.

“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?’” Friedman explained. “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.”

But not clear enough. Somehow Friedman’s joke made its way to the ears of the staff at Breitbart.com, which pounced as if it had discovered the scoop of the century.

Read the rest at the National Post.