In 'Friends of Hamas' Story, Media Fail to Pursue Full Disclosure from Hagel

There were not one, but two Breitbart News stories about the allegation that "Friends of Hamas" had donated to organizations connected to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). Both ran Feb. 7, and alongside one another, atop the site. The fact that the media have focused on the first, and ignored the second, is a testament to their refusal to hold Hagel to reasonable standards of disclosure, or to address the substantive issues releated to his associations.

The first story reported that Senate sources believed Hagel was refusing to comply fully with financial disclosure requests because “one of the [donor] names listed is a group purportedly called ‘Friends of Hamas.’” The second story explored a possible factual basis for the rumor: that “friends of Hamas” (lower case), such as the family of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in particular, had donated to the Atlantic Council.

Both stories indicated clearly that Breitbart News had not yet managed to corroborate the sources’ story about “Friends of Hamas” (upper case), but both noted the underlying problem was Hagel’s refusal to comply with requests for disclosure. The media showed no interest in exploring Hagel’s funders--not even Buzzfeed, which originally named the Hariri family as a key concern for the Senate (without bothering to explain why).

The media’s lack of interest in vetting Hagel has contributed--inadvertently, of course--to his present troubles. Each new revelation, each new speech, each new strange position in Hagel’s record has undermined the narrative the media have tried to assert--that he has satisfied all doubts and that his critics are making unprecedented requests. What is unprecedented, it turns out, is Hagel’s far-left worldview, which he now disavows.

Concerns about Hagel’s financial backers have faded not because he has satisfied the concerns of the Senate--indeed, his Friday evening document dump on Feb. 8 ought to have prompted new questions--but because his financial evasions have been eclipsed by new concerns about his failure to disclose recent speeches, and about the content of those speeches, which were provably weak on Iran and allegedly hostile towards Israel.

The fiction that Hagel’s defenders are trying to weave is that the first “Friends of Hamas”  story was primarily or largely responsible for encouraging Republicans to delay Hagel’s confirmation as Secretary of Defense. In fact, the letter from 25 Republican Senators to Hagel, demanding further information about possible foreign funding, both direct and indirect, was sent on Feb. 6, the day before the “Friends of Hamas” story ran. 

Moreover, in explaining why they chose to vote against cloture on the Senate floor on Feb. 14, Republicans explicitly identified other factors. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Ranking Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Hagel’s financial disclosure problems were “minor” compared to Hagel’s “anti-Israel history.” Likewise, others cited Hagel’s speeches, not his finances, as the reason they needed more time.

There was a Breitbart News story that was critical in informing that decision, but it was not either of the “Friends of Hamas” articles. Rather, it was a Feb. 11 story that ran both at Breitbart News and Fox News about two speeches Hagel had failed to provide to the committee. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Inhofe’s predecessor as Ranking Member, told the committee on Feb. 12 that the two speeches had motivated his vote against Hagel.

It is now apparent that Hagel misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 31 when he suggested that the controversy over his record was about “one individual” quote or vote, or statement, and when he said that he had made available “every copy of every speech that I have that's out there, every video that I have that's out there.” Even if Hagel did not intend to mislead, his testimony undermines trust in his leadership.

Moreover, Hagel has failed to convince the Senate or the public that he has changed his controversial views on Iran, Israel, and nuclear disarmament, among other issues. The fact that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) felt the need to tell a melodramatic tale about Hagel weeping when he was informed why the term “Jewish lobby” is offensive shows just how hard Democrats are trying to make what amounts to an impossible case.

They know it is impossible, because Democrats themselves first raised the alarm about Hagel’s views. In 2007, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) published a blog entitled: “Indecisive Senator Hagel Has Questionable Israel Record.” In 2009, the NJDC published an op-ed by activist Steve Sheffey in which he attacked Hagel as a member of the “anti-Israel right,” lumping him with Pat Buchanan and James Baker.

Now, the NJDC and the rest of the Democratic Party have flip-flopped on Hagel solely to protect President Barack Obama, who has expended enormous political capital to push the Hagel confirmation through the Senate. Schumer’s sob story has made clear that there is almost no new fact about Hagel’s record that could dislodge their support. They are willing to put party above principle, to risk national security for political interest.

Further disclosure is certainly warranted, but is not actually necessary for the Senate to make the right decision and reject Hagel. His views are radical, and incompatible with President Obama’s own national security strategy. He has weak credentials on defense policy, and his experience and interests are more focused on international diplomacy. His shaky, incoherent performance at his confirmation hearing is disqualifying in itself.

The most important reason to pursue further disclosure is not to convince the Senate one way or the other, but to reassure the public that national security will be in capable and trustworthy hands at a time of growing threats and shrinking budgets. It is Hagel’s duty to make that case by providing the Senate with the financial records and speeches he has withheld. These may be unusual requests, but Hagel is an unusual nominee.

The media could play an important role in pursuing Hagel’s funders. Instead, they have show more interest in outing a fellow journalist’s source. Some of the same outlets were quick to defend, or slow to condemn, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he made the wild accusation that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had failed to pay his taxes for ten years--based on a single unnamed source who only spoke to Reid.

The media clamored, in fact, for Romney to release his tax returns, though there was no reason to suspect he had done anything illegal. The reasons for Hagel to disclose more information are far stronger--namely, that he has apparently misled the Senate about what he has already disclosed, and that there are witnesses to radical statements he says he did not make. But for the media, Hagel’s critics remain a more convenient target.


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