Milbank attempted to recover himself on Al Sharpton’s show on MSNBC by noting that Abu Khattala had already been captured by military commandos over the weekend, a fact not made known by the Post until June 17—the day after Milbank wrote his column.
Members of the media were quick to pick up Milbank’s story of Muslim victimization occurring at the Heritage Foundation event, which was, in this case, organized by the BAC. “The Heritage Hate Panel Features Two Leading Islamophobes,” wrote Dean Obeidallah for The Daily Beast. “Why has hate become a part of mainstream conservatism?” he asks. Obeidallah uses the Southern Poverty Law Center and Media Matters as his sources. SPLC labels Frank Gaffney and others as “Islamophobes” for their beliefs, and calls Gaffney “the anti-Muslim movement’s most paranoid propagandist.”
This is how Gaffney began his response to Ahmed at Heritage: “Well, I’m glad to see you’re representing Muslims in this company. I don’t want to speak for anybody else but myself, but I think I can say safely that there isn’t anybody on this panel that thinks that all Muslims are the problem, and I certainly don’t. … ”
And then, at Salon.com, Joan Walsh wrote in “The right’s hateful freak show: Dana Milbank vs. Heritage Foundation’s abuse” that “the firestorm over Milbank’s column shows how hard even nominally mainstream reporters will work to excuse increasingly unhinged rhetoric on the right.” She disagrees with Dylan Byers of Politico, who criticized Milbank for misrepresenting the panel.
Byers’ column is a rare breath of fresh air from a normally complicit mainstream media; analyzing the video, Byers takes apart Milbank’s column and says that the electronic evidence does not match his conclusions. “Video of that panel has since surfaced and—in my view—Milbank grossly misrepresented the nature of that exchange,” writes Byers. “In fact, it’s worth noting that Ahmed didn’t appear at all troubled or upset at the end of the exchange.”
Milbank tweeted back to Byers that he would be happy to provide an audio in which Ahmed communicated afterwards that she felt “targeted.” How targeted can you feel when you bring the issue up entirely by yourself? After all, the subject of the panel discussion was Benghazi, not the state of Muslim-American relations.
But apparently, the release of the video was not enough to quiet complaints; and MSNBC was sure to pick up the story. “It’s like the greatest hits of a far-right website!” remarked Sharpton about the panel. He failed to show the conciliatory responses that panelists made to Ahmed and cut right to Brigitte Gabriel’s Germany comparison—cutting out that Gabriel also mentioned Russia, China, and Japan. Milbank went on the Al Sharpton show and said that Byers didn’t know what he was talking about because he didn’t attend, and based his analysis on a nine-minute video clip. Milbank said that it “devolved into this sort of Muslim baiting gradually over the entire thing.”
I was there. As a matter of fact, I was standing about five feet from Ms. Ahmed during most of the exchange. And while the audience clearly was supportive of Gaffney and Gabriel, Milbank’s characterization that “the reaction in the crowd—the long, standing ovation, the cheers for Gabriel, the fingers pointed at Ahmed, the war whoops—was intense, and a bit scary,” is absurd. I urge people to read Byers’ column for a detailed analysis of what was actually said—and not said—and watch the video. Ms. Ahmed wasn’t attacked or jeered.
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