Hagel's face says it all

Wow, what an awfully long day! What a roller coaster of emotion!

Kevin Baron has the full rundown. There were spats between friends -- though it seems like if John McCain and Chuck Hagel are still on speaking terms, they'll be frenemies from here on out. There were flubs -- a frequently flustered Hagel fumbling on Iran (specifically the issue of containment), senators with gotcha questions (Sen. Lindsey Graham at one point even interrupted to point out to Hagel, "I gotcha!"), and pandering all around. All in all it was the most dramatic piece of Washington theater since...well, inauguration was only two weeks ago.

It remains to be seen what effect Hagel's performance will have on his confirmation prospects. Josh Rogin reports that today's hearing has lost Hagel votes, but it seems doubtful that support will crater completely. But that's for another day.

For now, we pause to take one last look...at the looks of Chuck Hagel. We feel you, Chuck. It was ups and downs all day.

And if you think this post is an excuse for this .gif we made, it is.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images


Putin meme accountability watch: No, he did not hire Boyz II Men to make Russians have sex

You may have seen via social media today that the Moscow Times is reporting that Vladimir Putin has hired Boyz II Men to play a concert in Moscow as part of a campaign to encourage Russians to procreate and raise the country's flaggin birth rate. This is not true. More precisely, it may or may not be true but it hasn't been "reported" by anyone.

Here at Passport, we love a good wacky Vladimir Putin story as much as the next guy (Okay, probably more than the next guy) but when people are just making things up about the Russian president, we have an obligation to call bullshit.

It all started when Moscow Times reporter Lena Smirnova decided to put a cheeky lede on her interview with the '90s-era slow-jam masters, who have an upcoming concert in Moscow:

President Vladimir Putin's crusade to raise the country's birth rate is set to get the support of three powerful voices on its behalf.

A baritone and two tenors, that is.

The stylish trio of Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B group of all time, is coming to Moscow on Feb. 6. The group will perform a selection of their classic and new romantic ballads, hopefully giving Russian men some inspiration ahead of St. Valentine's Day.

Very clever! But it's obvious from the context, and the fact that it's never mentioned again, the Smirnova is in no way suggesting that Putin actually hired Boyz II Men for this purpose. Boyz II Men and many other groups frequently perform in the Russian capital without the president's involvement.

But one blogger at MediaBistro read it a bit differently, writing:

While the Boyz claim to be very busy working on their Las Vegas hotel residency and their upcoming tour with New Kids on the Block and 98 Degrees (stay out of it, Nick Lachey!), they still managed to find time to headline a February show in Moscow’s Crocus City Hall which–according to The Moscow Times–will serve as part of Putin’s ongoing PR campaign urging Russians to have more kids so the country can be more “influential.”

No! The Moscow Times didn't say that at all! A blogger for Britain's Telegraph then got a hold of the story, writing that "The Times insists that the band will be lending their “powerful voices” to Putin’s fertility campaign". It was off to the races from there.

Vanity Fair cites both the Telegraph and the Moscow Times, writing that "the group will support Putin’s crusade just before Valentine’s Day by performing a February 6th concert of romantic ballads in the capital city" and comparing it to other Putin fertility schemes.

A blogger for the religion and spirituality magazine First Things takes a moralizing tone, writing:

"One assumes that the aim of the concert is to help childbearing seem more appealing among Russians who take their cues from popular culture. I doubt, though, that it will be even narrowly helpful.....If Putin really wants to raise Russia’s birthrate, then, he should start by battling corruption and fostering open, transparent markets. Boyz II Men can come second."

I would completely agree if this story were actually something more than "Boyz II Men is playing a concert in Russia and a reporter made a sex joke." 

Guys, if we make up fictional Putin stories, it only diminishes the real ones. 

(Thanks to my colleague Neha Paliwal for the tip.)

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images