Media figures have smeared President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), by misrepresenting Hagel's support for sanctions against Iran and his support for Israel. The media have also cast doubt on the bipartisan support for Hagel's nomination.
CNN distorted former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's positions on potential U.S. negotiations with Hamas and sanctions on Iran to privilege the bogus argument that the senator is anti-Israel. In fact, Hagel's positions on these issues are not out of the mainstream and are not anti-Israel.
During a report that President Obama is going to nominate Hagel to be secretary of defense, CNN host Zoraida Sambolin played a clip of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) saying that a Hagel nomination is an "in your face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel." CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty followed up that clip by asserting that Hagel's critics "would question his devotion to anything that would help Israel. He, for instance, believes in talking to Hamas." Dougherty also highlighted the argument that Hagel's views on sanctions against Iran show that he is not sufficiently pro-Israel.
But the position Hagel has taken on Hamas is well within the mainstream and the position he has taken on Iran is not an anti-Israel position, but part of his long-held view that unilateral sanctions do not work. Furthermore, Hagel is supported by high-profile pro-Israel commentators.
Regarding Hamas, in 2009, Hagel co-signed a bipartisan letter suggesting steps the United States could take to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. One of the recommendations in the letter was that the United States should take "a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas and a Palestinian unity government." The United States has a policy of not negotiating with Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, due to its support of terrorism.
The letter stated: "Direct U.S. engagement with Hamas may not now be practical." But it added that Israel has acknowledged Hamas "is simply too important and powerful to be ignored." It recommended that the United States shift its policy "from ousting Hamas to modifying its behavior, offer it inducements that will enable its more moderate elements to prevail, and cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas."
This is far from an extreme or anti-Israel position. The letter was co-signed by two former U.S. National Security Advisers, Zbigniew Brezinski, who served in the Carter administration and Brent Scowcroft, who served in the Ford, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. Other signers include former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker (R-KS), former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, and former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen also endorsed the position on Hamas taken by the letter.
Furthermore, the Israeli government itself has said it is willing to talk to Hamas under certain conditions. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli President Shimon Peres said that "Israel would be willing to talk to Hamas, if Hamas complied with the three conditions set down by the Mideast Quartet, namely renunciation of terrorism, recognition of Israel and willingness to negotiate with Israel." The Post also reported: "There's nothing wrong with talking to Hamas, Peres clarified, but Hamas won't talk to Israel."
CNN falsely portrayed disagreement over changes to the federal budget as being exclusively due to Democrats' reluctance to cut social safety net programs. In two segments on Early Start, CNN didn't mention that Republicans' resistance to increasing taxes on the wealthy is also an obstacle in reaching a compromise to avoid the automatic tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.
In the first segment, guest host Christine Romans described the negotiations by saying, "Entitlement reform is a stumbling block here." She continued, "Democrats don't want deep cuts to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Republicans see no other choice."
Co-host Zoraida Sambolin went further in the second segment, claiming that "the sticking point" in fiscal cliff negotiations is "entitlement reform." Sambolin continued, "Republicans appear willing to budge on higher taxes for the wealthy, but only if programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid face cuts."
CNN isn't telling the whole story. Though Romans later discussed tax revenues in an interview with Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), her segment at the top of the show erased Republicans' unwillingness to consider tax increases on the wealthy -- which has been a sticking point in the negotiations.
Immediately following the election, House Speaker John Boehner called raising tax rates "unacceptable" to the Republican House. A few days later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told The Wall Street Journal, "We have a voter mandate not to raise taxes," and said, "I am not willing to raise taxes to turn off the sequester. Period." Republicans' insistence on maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy has remained one of the biggest points of disagreement.
And Sambolin's claim that Republicans "appear willing to budge on higher taxes for the wealthy" is questionable at best. While a handful of Republicans have indeed signaled a willingness to compromise on raising taxes for the wealthy, most Republicans are instead saying they are open to "eliminat[ing] individual loopholes and deductions," as The Washington Post reported. And as the Post noted, ending many of those deductions would affect not only the wealthy, but would also "reach far into the middle class."