Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Blog

Now that the Hagel confirmation fight is over, we can look back at what a strange and sad spectacle it’s been: Senators quoting the fever dreams of conservative activists on the Senate floor, McCarthyite insinuations of guilt by association, men who received Vietnam-era draft deferments questioning the patriotism of a man with two Purple Hearts, and attempts to smear Hagel merely because of his association with organizations representing Arab Americans, including AAI. In what was a thoroughly disgraceful episode all around, some parties managed debase themselves with extra panache. We’ve collected six such people below:

1) Bill Kristol: Kristol orchestrated the campaign against Hagel through his own Emergency Committee for Israel and organizations founded by his protégés, like Michael Goldfarb’s Washington Free Beacon. Despite spending significant resources on advertising, Kristol failed to derail Hagel’s nomination and in his broader goal of imposing a pro-Israel (others might call it Likud) litmus test on American cabinet officials.

2) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): During the Hagel hearings, Cruz looked to be auditioning for the role of a latter-day Joe McCarthy. Cruz made wild, unsubstantiated charges (something he has a history of doing), framed as questions thatwere impossible to refute, like how the Senate could be sure Hagel hadn’t accepted speaking fees from North Korea. This tactic went too far even for noted Hagel-basher John McCain, who chastised Cruz for maligning Hagel’s character.

3) Michael Goldfarb: Goldfarb is a neoconservative writer and protege of Bill Kristol who founded the Washington Free Beacon and remains an advisor at Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel. One of Goldfarb’s reporters advanced a speculative story that Hagel had once called the State Department “an adjunct to the Israeli foreign ministry.” Later that day, the anonymously-sourced story was being quoted by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as evidence of Hagel’s unsuitability. Goldfarb is a conservative provocateur in the tradition of Andrew Breitbart, and their websites drove the Hagel fiasco by taking rumors, citing a few anonymous sources and reporting them as facts. Unfortunately for Goldfarb, these stories consistently fell apart under scrutiny from real news outlets, like Slate and The New York Times.

4) Lindsey Graham (R-SC): Graham was the ringleader of the anti-Hagel movement in the Senate, and from his hectoring questions during Hagel’s testimony, it was clear that Graham intended to fight the nomination to the bitter end. Watching Hagel squirm as Graham demanded an example of someone on Capitol Hill intimidated by the Israel Lobby (as Stephen Walt ably pointed out, he had one sitting right in front of him) would have been funny if it weren’t so sad. Then, Graham vowed to block Hagel’s confirmation until the administration provided documents relating to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, an unfortunate incident that Hagel had no role in, since he was still a private citizen at the time. His concerns about Hagel apparently satisfied by these irrelevant documents, Graham then announced he would allow the nomination to proceed after the Senate’s recess. Apparently, whatever it was that made Hagel so unacceptable had been solved in the intervening ten days.

5) Ben Shapiro, Whatever remains of Ben Shapiro’s reputation will likely be forever stained by his role in the Hagel drama. On February 7th, he published a story that cited “Senate sources” claiming that Hagel was withholding information about payments he’d received from a group called “Friends of Hamas.” Other than the unnamed Senate sources, the story cited as evidence the fact that Shapiro had been hung up on after calling the White House about the absurd rumor. After real journalists like Slate’s David Weigel looked into his story, it became clear that “Friends of Hamas” did not exist, and that the rumor Shapiro reported had in fact been started by the sarcastic questioning of another journalist. Shapiro’s predicament was emblematic of much of the right-wing media’s response to the Hagel nomination, showcasing the difference between real journalists, who start from facts and make deductions based on them, and the sort of ideological pseudo-journalism practiced by and other outlets, in which the conclusion is predetermined. In this case, that conclusion was that Chuck Hagel was dangerously anti-Israel. When facts could not be found to support the case, rumors were substituted.

6) Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: Rubin has a long history of outlandish behavior, but her coverage of Hagel’s nomination was especially bad. Throughout this saga, she repeatedly tried to use associations from Hagel’s past and his (accurate) assessment of the power of the Israel lobby on Capitol Hill to paint him as some sort of dangerous radical. As these tactics flopped, she embraced the shoddy reporting of and the Washington Free Beacon as proof of Hagel’s unsuitability. Unlike many right-wing bloggers, who reach no one but fellow travelers, Rubin inexplicably has the platform of The Washington Post, lending the legitimacy of one of the country’s premier newspapers to her commentary, and by extension, to the shoddily-reported stories she uses to source her opinions. This coverage has real consequences, like pushing Republicans like Edward Royce, the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who had no say in Hagel’s confirmation, to embrace her conspiracy theories.

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