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Boehlert writes: "Tellingly, the fact that the scary sounding group doesn't exist didn't stop a right-wing site from pushing the tall tale; a tale that quickly ricocheted across the conservative media landscape and was touted as a Deeply Troubling Development."

Washington Times commentator and webmaster Andrew Breitbart, 02/12/11. (photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Washington Times commentator and webmaster Andrew Breitbart, 02/12/11. (photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

'Friends of Hamas' and Why the GOP Can't Win the Internet

By Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America

20 February 13


f you want to appreciate how vast the digital divide is that historically separates conservative failures and liberal accomplishments online, and if you want to add some context to the recent New York Times Magazine feature article on how Republicans' chronic online shortcomings dim the party's electoral chances, just look at how the two camps were marking their time in recent days.

Working with Republicans on Capitol Hill trying to block Chuck Hagel's nomination to become Secretary of Defense, Breitbart's Ben Shapiro recently posted a report suggesting Hagel had allegedly received "foreign funding" over the years from a terrorist-friendly group called Friends of Hamas, but that the payments were being kept secret. The allegation served as part of the right wing's relentless campaign to smear Hagel as being anti-Israel.

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy, and AM talker Hugh Hewitt all hyped Breitbart's conspiratorial narrative about Hagel's nefarious connections with Friends of Hamas.

Slight problem. Last week, Slate's David Weigel detailed how Friends of Hamas doesn't actually exist. And as New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman explained, he unwittingly started the Friends of Hamas rumor when he posed the Hagel question to a GOP aide in the form of "an obvious joke." According to Friedman, he asked about both Friends of Hamas and the "Junior League of Hezbollah," and thought that 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."

The GOP aide then apparently shared the Friends of Hamas inquiry with other partisans and Friedman posits that from there it found its way to Breitbart, which published it in the form of "news" under Shapiro's byline. Tellingly, the fact that the scary sounding group doesn't exist didn't stop a right-wing site from pushing the tall tale; a tale that quickly ricocheted across the conservative media landscape and was touted as a Deeply Troubling Development.

It was against that backdrop of routine right-wing dysfunction that the Times published its lengthy article. Author Robert Draper argued -- and many Republican operatives agreed -- that the GOP's perennial online failures have made it almost impossible for the party to communicate effectively with younger voters; voters who have developed a deeply hostile perception of the GOP brand. (i.e. "Polarizing," "narrow-minded.") Draper didn't make reference to the Friends of Hamas debacle, but it could have served as a useful example of how routinely unserious online pursuits have become among Republican boosters.

By comparison, note Monday's news that left-leaning Mother Jones won a prestigious Polk Award for the big campaign scoop David Corn posted online last September about how Mitt Romney, while addressing wealthy donors, disparaged "47 percent" of Americans who "believe they are victims." The blockbuster report, complete with an undercover video, was the fruit of a month's worth of digging by Corn.

The Friends of Hamas farce, coupled with the Polk Award, represent useful bookends when measuring the widening gulf that separates liberals and conservatives online, and how one side has completely lapped the other. (Seven years after its launch, players are still trying to create the "conservative Huffington Post.")

I realize the Times piece focused on "the Republican Party's technological deficiencies," the lopsided battle for a social media edge, revolutionary campaign software, and how senior Republicans are still reluctant to even engage via Twitter. The piece cast a spotlight on how information, and better information, is shared faster and more widely among liberals than it is among conservatives.

But you can't really take what the right-wing media, and specifically bloggers, are doing online and separate that from the GOP's chronic, failed attempts to use the Internet to win elections and bolster its brand. The two are permanently attached.

The truth is, liberals for years bemoaned the fact that conservatives dominated talk radio and there seemed to be something in the DNA of liberal listeners that prevented them from tuning in to like-minded radio hosts endlessly, week after week and year after year. With the Internet, the tables have been turned. Conservatives scratch their heads trying to understand the chasm and why there seems to be a natural disposition on the left to embrace the nonhierarchical style of the Web and turn it into an oversize organizing tool, while so many Republicans simply demurred.

Or worse, they have helped turn the Web into the conservative house of mirrors, as represented by the comically awful and dishonest Friends of Hamas failure.

And talk about deja vu.

Describing how badly Democrats are outclassing them online, a Republican operative told the Times, "They were playing chess while we were playing checkers."

Sound familiar? It should. "For the most part Republicans are stuck in Internet circa 2000." That's how a GOP aide turned blogger described the party's dire problem to the Washington Post in 2007. That same year, a Weekly Standard writer bemoaned, "We're losing the Web right now."

Not much has changed since then. In fact, according to the Times piece things may have gotten worse for Republicans over the last four years, as Mitt Romney's social media thumping proved. (i.e. 12 million Facebook friends registered for Romney vs. 33 million for Obama.) And specifically, the GOP now faces a grave danger in term of reaching and persuading young voters, who electorally appear to be verging on a generational lost cause for Republicans.

Frustrated GOP activists told the Times that the party's corporate rigidity was to blame for the lack of online innovation and success, and that conservative techies are too focused on making money and not devoted enough to helping grow the cause.

After reading the Times article, Salon's Andrew Leonard noted a different reason for endless GOP stumbles in the face of Democratic successes [emphasis added]:

What's really happening is that Democrats have grasped a fundamental attribute of the digital age -- information is easy to share -- and have understood that the best way to take advantage of this special quality is set up a structure in which "smart people" are allowed to operate freely in an environment where information flows fluidly.

Note the significance of "smart people." And just as importantly, I'd suggest, are serious people. Today online, conservatives often lack both.

Just ask Friends of Hamas. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+23 # Walter J Smith 2013-02-20 16:18
This is a quite good, if understated illustration of the massive "Bermuda Triangle" the GOP has allowed itself to drift into, and now sits there going round and round, as if in politics there is only a huge holding pond otherwise known in streams as a "whirlpool."

The opposite currents making up this pool used to be called "liberal" and "conservative." The GOP belongs nowhere in either camp anymore except where it is: caught in the whirlpools made by the liberals running amok with corporatism, and corporatist rhetorical insistence that it is essentially a force for conservative interests.

Corporatism is in some ways still a status quo conservative force, but those corporations lost in that world of political delusions are rapidly evaporating; the banking/finance chieftains are making sure of that.

The GOP ran adrift because of its radical and eager electioneers, by the Karl Roves: every one of his predecessors in GOP electioneering all the way back to the 1930s. The GOP got completely caught in the political whirlpool it is now stuck in when, in 1998, it forgot the difference between intellectual health and sheer anti-intellectu alism. Today the GOP sees nothing different between them.

Meanwhile, the Democrats run wild with hopey changey stuff, while their big cheese proves himself the most status quo conservative politician in the world. Exactly like his party's most recent predecessor in the same position.

There are many whirlpools.
+86 # davidr 2013-02-20 16:29
Humor depends upon the ability to keep in mind more than one thought at a time. This is not the ideologue's métier. Sarcasm ("Friends of Hamas" for God's sake!) is a fairly primitive means of saying two things at once: a) here's something in the shape & style of ordinary information that b) only an egregious sucker could believe.

The one-thought person is a sucker — and will be a sucker in any medium — a fool for Limbaugh, Regnery, Fox, Drudge. Republicans don't have an internet problem, which is why they haven't solved it yet. They have an epistemological problem: how does one know what one knows? That's the crucial companion-thoug ht for any serious person. Without it, you don't get either the jokes or the internet.

Without it you are prey to reductionist messages on talk radio or from a fundamentalist pulpit. Without it you ignore science and other intellectual challenges; you embrace mad constructs (American exceptionalism, free market fundamentalism, the supply side, etc.); you simply make stuff up out of whole cloth (this was Romney's strategy … speaking of a leaden sense of humor).

What is most dangerous about the one-track mind is that it can cynically opt out of the "reality based world", create its own facts by dint of force, and compel the rest of us to live with the fallout. It can do all that because it doesn’t have a second thought.
+8 # Texas Aggie 2013-02-21 15:49
Absolutely. Well done.
+36 # brux 2013-02-20 18:42
Kind of makes me smile to remember where Andrew Breitbart is now.

When the radical right are being complete you-know-what's ... it starts with "a" and ends with "e", and they always are, Breitbart's whereabouts does cheer me up.
+21 # beardog 2013-02-21 00:05
Republicans have become fool's fools haven't they? This was so much fun the pundits should set it up about once a week.
+21 # Efurst 2013-02-21 00:27
Whether or not the GOP can use the WWW, twitter, facebook, etc. is not the only point here. Nobody checked anything out before running with it. There seems to be more "pants on fire" or one pants leg on fire banging around the internet, email and Faux News and not a lot of fact checks. Snopes, factcheck and politifact are busier than ever........... ...
+10 # SamWilliams3 2013-02-21 00:38
But the Republicans are effective communicators. While they may not deal with facts, they do manage to get across the message they intend to send. How many times is "Friends of Hamas" mentioned in this article? Now, even those who share the author's disdain for this use of a fictitious group's name will automatically associate it with Hagel. The author is, in effect, reinforcing the idea that the republicans intended to communicate. Republicans may be dishonest but others can be overly naive.
+29 # kyzipster 2013-02-21 08:40
It's not naive to dispute the lies and to set the record straight.

Yes, Republicans benefit from their lies in countless ways as we spend so much time and energy countering their attacks but there is no benefit in ignoring the attacks.
+26 # luvdoc 2013-02-21 00:43
The GOP (the party of no) is so 'off the wall' that I don't even look at the wall anymore. Even if by some (seemingly remote) chance a Gop-er floated a statesmenlike idea my bullshit filter just won't let it through. Sadly, they are irrelevent except, in their death throes, they remain dangerous as the empire dies. luvdoc
+34 # Ken Halt 2013-02-21 01:27
I think it's worthwhile to remember, after reading this article, the Rush "ditto heads", as in "Whatever you say, Rush! Do my thinking for me, I don't have a brain of my own." These people were proud to call themselves ditto heads! The eponymous Breitbart dot com website seems to be carrying on the tradition of its namesake by peddling lies, innuendo, and smarmy invention, as valid news and fact. I am so pleased to see conservatives self-destructin g. Now we must find a way to reduce the influence of money in politics and steer the Dems to a more progressive direction. As Walter Smith points out above, Dems can also be corporate shills. We must elect more politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Lee, Tammy Duckworth, Al Franken, Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold, and oust politicians who are taking the Koch brothers' money. Good luck to us all, it's going to be an uphill slog, but well-worth doing if we are to the US away from corporate control.
+23 # unitedwestand 2013-02-21 02:57
Makes a lot of sense, that the GOP is so behind the times, they are so regressive and hate science and progress. Their policies if implemented will take us back long before the internet was invented.
+9 # bmiluski 2013-02-21 12:21
Why does the GOP resemble and attract cultists?
+5 # flippancy 2013-02-21 05:14
Breitbart certainly was a scumbag politically, no serious person can deny that, but even his worst enemies have conceded he was a warm and loving family man. His absence from the political scene is definitely a positive thing, but to be glad he's dead is not.
+20 # RMDC 2013-02-21 05:54
If you tried to collect all the lies told by republicans, conservatives, and capitalists in order to maniipulate people for the last 100 years, you would fill up the internet. Lying is what the right wing in the US does. That's all it does. They make everything. It is just a wonder that they did not circulate rumors that Hegel was getting money from the "Friends of Satan."
+16 # kyzipster 2013-02-21 06:49
Great article. Another problem that Republicans have is that the truth does have a tendency to prevail and the internet lends itself to this outcome as demonstrated with the "Hamas debacle" explained in the article.

The GOP can push all of their lies and distortions of reality online but unlike Fox News and Clear Channel Radio, the internet provides a platform for disputing the bull chit.
+9 # bmiluski 2013-02-21 12:22
Probably because the internet, unlike main-stream media, is NOT owned by the neo-cons.
+2 # DarthEVaderCheney 2013-02-22 13:14
Don't be surprised... the neo-cons aim to change that! Why do we need CISPA? Republicans and conservative neo-cons, not to mention the news media CEOs!
+8 # mike/ 2013-02-21 07:01
i'm sorry, in listening to Friedman explain what he did it was not 'obvious' it was a joke. obvious would be if he said something like, "What if there was a group called, say, 'Friends of Hamas'...." or used a word that gave the impression that there was no such group.

yes, the Republicans & their support 'team', a la Fox etc, are not very bright but you have to consider with whom you are dealing. Friedman didn't.

on the other side, where were Hagel's handlers while this was going on? there was no one who said that it wasn't true in a forthright way. It took Slate to bring up that there was no such group!

anyone want to bet that there now IS a group called 'Friends of Hamas'?
+4 # Texas Aggie 2013-02-21 15:55
And if Hagel's handlers had addressed it, the reich wingnutters would have taken that as further evidence of its truth, no? The only way it could be brought down is by a third party, and by now there are probably lots of "Friends of Hamas" rock bands, Onion groups, and other similar groups making fun of the knotheads in wingnutterlandi a.
+15 # Mrcead 2013-02-21 07:33
The GOP's internet base of operations is basically a troll factory. They aren't going anywhere with social media until they understand what that means and why it matters.
+9 # Buddha 2013-02-21 09:33
The thing is, to the Right, the internet is just another communications tool to spread their lies and propaganda. You can't tell me that Breitbart when he was alive wasn't perfectly aware that most of the stuff he was putting out was, to put it delicately, stretching the truth. The problem for the GOP is that this is the Information Age...that very internet has a way of spreading truth, and the fact that someone was lying, far faster than the lie itself. The youth, when they can be bothered to pay attention, is pretty good at discerning internet lies and mumbo-jumbo and when someone is trying to pull a fast one.
+3 # DarthEVaderCheney 2013-02-22 13:18
That, basically, is why the GOP/TPods have lost the younger generation, 18-35+ year olds. They can't be won back once they've been had. Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice....
+12 # trevorlasvegas 2013-02-21 09:52
It seems to me obvious that a lazy and uncritical listener seeking entertainment is willing to absorb information from one source, without analyzing or criticizing it. The Internet is the antithesis of Rush Limbaugh's environment.
+8 # soularddave 2013-02-21 23:12
Therefore, the right wing tends to demonize the whole internet from time to time.

I get missives from my right-wing associates from time to time, often in mass emailings. I love to "Snopes" their silly facts and opinions, then send a link to the "fact" rebuttal or a countervailing article back with a simple "reply all". Perhaps I'm a left-wing (radical) troll, but the above writer is correct when she points out that "we have the facts at our fingertips" while we sit at our computers.

This is exactly WHY I read and SUPPORT RSN with periodic contributions. We have the facts on our side. We're at least a step or three ahead of their game. Chess is a great analogy.
+5 # moby doug 2013-02-21 14:57
But notice that even with diminishing popular support the GOP continues metastasizing and seizing power by buying votes, funding astroturf movements like the Teabaggers, gerrymandering, unionbusting, etc in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio....not to mention the slave states and the Mormon states.
+4 # Texas Aggie 2013-02-21 15:57
The article could have mentioned Yertle's concern that the prisoners at Guantanamo were getting GI benefits based on a report from the duffelblog. (look up It is as good as the Onion on its good days.)
+4 # DoctorDemocracy 2013-02-21 17:47
It's a thing of potential lasting beauty, isn't it? As many posters here have alluded, many in the generation that grew up with the internet automatically think of the internet as a network connected to many different sources of information. Consequently, debunking and making fun of bizarre and/or made up stories is part of life. The youngsters, they are hard to bullshit.
+2 # Mrcead 2013-02-22 19:47
Exactly. They won't even get enough momentum going before getting derailed by a middle schooler just being him/herself naturally scrutinizing the information and demanding to be convinced to believe otherwise. I have always thought that the internet and technology lives in a state of accelerated evolution as anything that cannot be proven true is instantly made redundant because it simply does not compute. Brilliant.
+2 # johngensheimer 2013-02-24 00:42
From what I've seen on the internet so far is that the GOP, and the right wing, by extension have abandoned any pretense of intellectualism . What ever happened to the classic WASPy highbrow Republican? So many conservative web pages post horrible depictions of our president that are not only not funny, but also brutally racist. Their's is a message of fear, personal attacks on progressives with little or no substance regarding policy. The comments posted by their readers are even worse, again filled with derogatory personal attacks against the left, name calling and no substantial dialog based on any real facts.
0 # michelet3 2013-04-07 20:12
As one of the millions around the world with probably some "hidden" Jewish blood, I say bravo to the entry of Hagel into the DOD and some new breath of fresh air that has come into Israeli politics. Netanyahu and the Senate Republicans are a disgrace to the lessons that should have been learned by the Holocaust.

No form of genocide against anyone can ever be justified for any reason!

W. Michelet

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