Jonathan Bernstein sees the “Friends of Hamas” nonsense and how quickly it spread through conservative circles as symptoms of a broader problem with conservative media outlets:

The question is what comes next. Does the reporter get punished for botching a story, or rewarded for generating partisan talking points? Does the publication redouble its efforts to enforce standards, or pride itself on the buzz? Do pundits and politicians learn to be highly skeptical of the news source and, if it doesn’t clean itself up, eventually shun it — or do they continue to cite it as if it’s totally legitimate?

The answers to date suggest that the GOP is perfectly happy to welcome into the tent an organization that is happy to fabricate “news” that supports conservative story lines.

This episode is reminiscent of the near-certainty at many conservative media outlets that Romney was likely to win in the closing weeks of the election last year. Many of the people at these outlets started with the false assumption that Obama should be the underdog because of profound misreading of how the voting public would react to the state of the economy, and they proceeded to discount or explain away all evidence that told them something that contradicted this core wrong assumption. This led them to put their trust in truly outlandish predictions that proved to be wildly wrong. Similarly, conservative media outlets have been endlessly repeating various lies about Hagel (e.g., that he is “anti-Israel” or “hostile” to Israel, that his views are “fringe” and “not mainstream,” etc.) and face little or no resistance from other conservatives (and meanwhile criticism from outside the bubble is simply ignored). That makes many of them willing to believe ever more outrageous and nonsensical stories about Hagel. Hence the ease with which the total fabrication of the “Friends of Hamas” was accepted and repeated as if it were true or even possible.

It’s impossible to understand the speed with which the “Friends of Hamas” fiction spread online without appreciating just how dishonest the underlying movement conservative anti-Hagel argument is. Anyone who knows Hagel’s real record and doesn’t fall for hard-liners’ misrepresentation of it would have recognized this “story” as garbage the moment he heard about it. Even if such a group existed, it’s lunatic to think that Hagel would have been consorting with it. One has to be willing to believe all manner of nonsense and smears before the “Friends of Hamas” lie seems remotely plausible. Unrelenting hostility to evidence will always come back to haunt you sooner or later.