Liberal Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank attended a Benghazi panel hosted at the conservative Heritage Foundation earlier this week, and the experience turned his stomach:
What began as a session purportedly about “unanswered questions” surrounding the September 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya deteriorated into the ugly taunting of a woman in the room who wore an Islamic head covering...Then Saba Ahmed, an American University law student, stood in the back of the room and asked a question in a soft voice. “We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam,” she told them. “We have 8 million-plus Muslim Americans in this country and I don’t see them represented here.” Panelist Brigitte Gabriel of a group called ACT! for America pounced. She said “180 million to 300 million” Muslims are “dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization.” She told Ahmed that the “peaceful majority were irrelevant” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and she drew a Hitler comparison: “Most Germans were peaceful, yet the Nazis drove the agenda and as a result, 60 million died.” ... “Are you an American?” Gabriel demanded of Ahmed, after accusing her of taking “the limelight” and before informing her that her “political correctness” belongs “in the garbage.” “Where are the others speaking out?” Ahmed was asked. This drew an extended standing ovation from the nearly 150 people in the room, complete with cheers. The panel’s moderator, conservative radio host Chris Plante, grinned and joined in the assault. “Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?” he demanded of Ahmed.
Sounds pretty awful. Also, it's absolute garbage. Mollie Hemingway wrote a refutation of Milbank's characterization of the exchange for The Federalist, but it was Politico's Dylan Byers' lengthy take-down that has generated the most attention. Byers compared Milbank's hysterical description of the tone and content of the symposium to unedited video of the event, and concluded that the columnist's account "grossly misrepresented" what actually happened. Among other things, Milbank elided important details and statements that cut against his dishonest narrative:
Milbank also omits that when Gabriel began speaking, she said to Ahmed, "Great question. I am so glad you are here and I am so glad you brought that up, because it gives us an opportunity to answer." She then said that on the panel, which was supposed to be about the death of four Americans in Benghazi, "not one person mentioned Muslims, or that we are here against Islam, or that we are launching war against Muslims." "We are not here to bash Muslims. You were the one who brought up this issue about most Muslims, not us," Gabriel said to Ahmed. "And since you brought it up, allow me to elaborate with my answer. There are 1.2 [billion] Muslims in the world today. Of course not all of them are radicals. The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent according to all intelligence services around the world." In his email, Milbank wrote, "Gabriel said she was glad the question was asked because it gave her a chance to respond. She accepted that the majority of Muslims are peaceful but said that was irrelevant because there were 180 to 300 million people dedicated to destroying western civilization." Gabriel does claim that the “peaceful majority" of Muslims "were irrelevant” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but she is not dismissing peaceful Muslims as unimportant. She's arguing that the existence of peaceful Muslims did not stop Sept. 11 from happening.
Byers pronounces the column a "disaster." Buzzfeed piles on, noting that the questioner thanked panelists for their responses, and was given an opportunity to follow-up. When Plante pushed back with his question about the "head of the Muslim peace movement," Ms. Ahmed smiled and replied, "I guess it's me right now." The audience applauded along with the beaming participants. Watch:
Hardly the Islamophobic "assault" portrayed in the pages of the Washington Post. Milbank weakly defended himself on Twitter, explaining that his interpretation of what happened is all very "subjective:"
Several knee-jerk lefty hacks have predictably rushed to Milbank's defense, eager to ignore empirical evidence in order to prop up a dishonest smear. Here's the video. Judge for yourself who's telling the truth:
Incidentally, I do not always agree with the opinions or approaches of everyone who was on that stage at Heritage on Monday. That doesn't mean they don't deserve to be defended against a mendacious hit piece that purposefully excised mitigating quotes and details, in order to make them come off as wild-eyed haters. A number of conservatives have noted that Milbank has a history of playing fast and loose with the facts to make the Right look bad. I'd suggest that Milbank should offer a contrite apology for his mistake, but it seems as though his errors weren't a mistake at all.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography