The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank described an ugly scene that took place Monday at a conservative panel on Benghazi, but now many conservatives and a prominent media critic contend the columnist offered a deceitful account.
Milbank attended an event that was hosted by the Benghazi Accountability Coalition and detailed what happened when Saba Ahmed, a law student at American University, asked the panelists about negative Islamic stereotypes.
Milbank wrote that Brigitte Gabriel, the founder and CEO of ACT! for America, “pounced” when it was her turn to answer Adhmed’s question.
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.
“Yeah,” audience members taunted, “yeah.”
Video has since surfaced of the event, and some believe the footage proves that Milbank mischaracterized what transpired.
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who did not attend the panel, went as far to accuse Milbank of “making stuff up.” She criticized Milbank for neglecting to include Gabriel’s opening line 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,” Gabriel said before she aggressively lectured Ahmed.
Hemingway also faulted Milbank for failing to note that Gabriel “has a thick accent” and is a Lebanese immigrant.
Hemingway and RedState editor Erick Erickson each pointed out that Milbank did not publish the response from Frank Gaffney, the Sharia law-obsessed lawyer who told Ahmed that no one on the panel “thinks that all Muslims are the problem.”
Erickson wrote that the event was not even co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation (though it was held at one of the conservative think tank’s auditoriums) and that Ahmed has been “been active at Occupy rallies denouncing American war efforts.”
He also objected to Ahmed for steering a panel discussion focused on Benghazi to “a war on Islam and attacks on Muslims.”
“She hijacked the discussion for her own agenda. The panelists responded. Predictably, and no doubt coordinated among the left, it was then used to attack Heritage,” Erickson wrote, arguing that liberals have exploited Ahmed as part of their effort to “discredit any conversation about Benghazi.”
But the criticism that seemed to irk Milbank more than any other was a tough piece from Politico’s Dylan Byers, who was also not at the event.
Under the headline “Dana Milbank’s Heritage disaster,” Byers wrote that the columnist “grossly misrepresented” the discussion.
Byers knocked Milbank for omitting Gaffney’s response and Gabriel’s opening line. He also wrote that, contrary to Milbank’s description, Gabriel never “demanded” to know if Ahmed is an American.
Milbank defended his reporting in emails to Byers and used Twitter to rebut the Politico writer’s criticisms. According to Milbank, Ahmed herself told him that she felt “targeted.”
— Dana Milbank (@Milbank) June 17, 2014
I spoke to the Muslim woman, Saba Ahmed, after the event, and she spoke of feeling “targeted,” @DylanByers. You can have the audio.
— Dana Milbank (@Milbank) June 17, 2014
Byers told TPM in an email that he doesn’t have anything more to add on the matter, at least “for the time-being.” Milbank, meanwhile, did not respond to an email from TPM seeking comment.