The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank responded forcefully Wednesday to a Politico reporter’s attempted takedown of his account from a conservative panel discussion that took an unexpected turn.
Milbank had described an ugly exchange earlier this week involving Saba Ahmed, a Muslim law student who posed a question to the panelists at the Benghazi Accountability Coalition’s event.
Several conservatives have argued that Milbank mischaracterized what actually transpired after Ahmed expressed concern to the panelists about negative Islamic stereotypes. Ahmed’s comments prompted an aggressive lecture from Brigitte Gabriel, the founder and CEO of ACT! for America.
After a nine-minute video clip of the event was posted by Media Matters, Byers wrote that Milbank had “grossly misrepresented the nature of that exchange.”
As Byers saw it, Milbank erred when he wrote that Gabriel “demanded” to know if Ahmed is an American. Byers also criticized Milbank for failing to include Gabriel’s initial response to Ahmed, as well as remarks from Frank Gaffney, the Sharia law fear-monger who also sat on the panel.
“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 asserting that up to 300 million Muslims are “dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization.”
Gaffney, for his part, told Ahmed that no one on the panel “thinks that all Muslims are the problem,” but he also said that Huma Abedin, the wife of Anthony Weiner and a longtime Hillary Clinton confidant, has “deep personal and family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
But Milbank stood by his reporting and, in his Wednesday column, he took Byers to task for rendering a judgment on an event that Byers never attended. He wrote that Byers, who reported that the Heritage Foundation did not co-host the panel, was duped by the conservative think tank.
(RedState.com editor Erick Erickson also objected to Milbank’s description of the panel as a “Heritage Foundation event.”)
“But had Byers been at the event himself, he wouldn’t have swallowed the Heritage spin — hook, line and sinker,” Milbank wrote. “He would have been handed the agenda, printed on paper with the Heritage logo, announcing: ‘The Benghazi Accountability Coalition and The Heritage Foundation Cordially Invite You to a Symposium’ on Benghazi. He would have seen the accompanying paper noting that Heritage is a member of the Benghazi Accountability Coalition, and he would have heard John Hilboldt, the head of Heritage’s lecture program, give remarks opening the panel. This wasn’t in the video excerpt Byers viewed.”
Byers had argued that Ahmed “didn’t appear at all troubled or upset at the end of the exchange.” Heritage tried to make the same point on Tuesday, posting video of the audience applauding at the conclusion of Ahmed’s exchange. Media Matters included that portion in its own footage.
According to Milbank, Ahmed told him she felt “threatened.” He wrote that if Byers had actually “witnessed all these remarks, and heard the hisses in the audience and observed the moderator’s sneers, he might have understood better the exchange with Ahmed that followed.”
Then Milbank closed with a shot at Byers, who plans to relocate to Los Angeles to work at Politico’s new West Coast bureau.
“[Byers] reports that he’s moving to California, where it will be just as easy to cover journalism the way he has covered it from Virginia,” Milbank wrote. “They have armchairs on the West Coast, too.”
During an appearance Tuesday night on MSNBC, Milbank had offered a preview of his Wednesday column, although he didn’t address the Politico scribe by name.
“Well, certainly a lot of the folks on the far right take issue with the column, whether they were there or not,” Milbank said during an appearance on MSNBC.
“There was one fellow at Politico who said he had a different view, although he didn’t attend the event and he based it on a nine-minute video clip out of the 65 minutes that were there. But I think to be in that room, there’s no doubt it began as a Benghazi event and devolved into this sort of Muslim baiting gradually over the entire thing. And I think you had to see the shouts and the taunts in the crowd to appreciate what they had done to this woman there. So, I think it’s a lesson in needing to be in the room to experience something like that.”
Byers responded to Milbank’s piece on Wednesday with a dismissive tweet.
It’s a nice effort, @Milbank.
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) June 18, 2014