Cider Press Hill

Land of Make-believe

Friday, 3:22 pm

By Kate

Jun

17

2005

partly cloudy

Picking up where we left off yesterday, with the Downing Street Memo hearing with Rep John Conyers and all…

This morning the Washington Post ran an article by Dana Milbank that was scathing and, well, embarrassing—the only article that the Washington Post published about the hearing. The title of the piece was called Democrats Play House To Rally Against the War and it begins thus:

In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe.
They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole thing look official.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) banged a large wooden gavel and got the other lawmakers to call him “Mr. Chairman.” He liked that so much that he started calling himself “the chairman” and spouted other chairmanly phrases, such as “unanimous consent” and “without objection so ordered.” The dress-up game looked realistic enough on C-SPAN, so two dozen more Democrats came downstairs to play along.
[...]
As Conyers and his hearty band of playmates know, subpoena power and other perks of a real committee are but a fantasy unless Democrats can regain the majority in the House. But that’s only one of the obstacles they’re up against as they try to convince America that the “Downing Street Memo” is important.

Milbank may be right in one point—anything substantive coming from the inquiry may be a fantasy unless the Democrats can regain a majority in the House. How reassuring to be reminded that our government only serves the majority party in power. Did I mention that the article was an embarrassment written by a supposed adult and professional journalist in a nationally respected newspaper?

Rep John Conyers responded quickly with a letter of rebuttal which may or may not see the light of day in the Washington Post, so I will take the liberty of posting it, as a few other bloggers also have:

Mr. Michael Abramowitz, National Editor
Mr. Michael Getler, Ombudsman
Mr. Dana Milbank
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20071

Dear Sirs:

I write to express my profound disappointment with Dana Milbank’s June 17 report, “Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War,” which purports to describe a Democratic hearing I chaired in the Capitol yesterday. In sum, the piece cherry-picks some facts, manufactures others out of whole cloth, and does a disservice to some 30 members of Congress who persevered under difficult circumstances, not of our own making, to examine a very serious subject: whether the American people were deliberately misled in the lead up to war. The fact that this was the Post’s only coverage of this event makes the journalistic shortcomings in this piece even more egregious.

In an inaccurate piece of reporting that typifies the article, Milbank implies that one of the obstacles the Members in the meeting have is that “only one” member has mentioned the Downing Street Minutes on the floor of either the House or Senate. This is not only incorrect but misleading. In fact, just yesterday, the Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, mentioned it on the Senate floor. Senator Boxer talked at some length about it at the recent confirmation hearing for the Ambassador to Iraq. The House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently signed on to my letter, along with 121 other Democrats asking for answers about the memo. This information is not difficult to find either. For example, the Reid speech was the subject of an AP wire service report posted on the Washington Post website with the headline “Democrats Cite Downing Street Memo in Bolton Fight”. Other similar mistakes, mischaracterizations and cheap shots are littered throughout the article.

The article begins with an especially mean and nasty tone, claiming that House Democrats “pretended” a small conference was the Judiciary Committee hearing room and deriding the decor of the room. Milbank fails to share with his readers one essential fact: the reason the hearing was held in that room, an important piece of context. Despite the fact that a number of other suitable rooms were available in the Capitol and House office buildings, Republicans declined my request for each and every one of them. Milbank could have written about the perseverance of many of my colleagues in the face of such adverse circumstances, but declined to do so. Milbank also ignores the critical fact picked up by the AP, CNN and other newsletters that at the very moment the hearing was scheduled to begin, the Republican Leadership scheduled an almost unprecedented number of 11 consecutive floor votes, making it next to impossible for most Members to participate in the first hour and one half of the hearing.

In what can only be described as a deliberate effort to discredit the entire hearing, Milbank quotes one of the witnesses as making an anti-semitic assertion and further describes anti-semitic literature that was being handed out in the overflow room for the event. First, let me be clear: I consider myself to be friend and supporter of Israel and there were a number of other staunchly pro-Israel members who were in attendance at the hearing. I do not agree with, support, or condone any comments asserting Israeli control over U.S. policy, and I find any allegation that Israel is trying to dominate the world or had anything to do with the September 11 tragedy disgusting and offensive.

That said, to give such emphasis to 100 seconds of a 3 hour and five minute hearing that included the powerful and sad testimony (hardly mentioned by Milbank) of a woman who lost her son in the Iraq war and now feels lied to as a result of the Downing Street Minutes, is incredibly misleading. Many, many different pamphlets were being passed out at the overflow room, including pamphlets about getting out of the Iraq war and anti-Central American Free Trade Agreement, and it is puzzling why Milbank saw fit to only mention the one he did.

In a typically derisive and uninformed passage, Milbank makes much of other lawmakers calling me “Mr. Chairman” and says I liked it so much that I used “chairmanly phrases.” Milbank may not know that I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1988 to 1994. By protocol and tradition in the House, once you have been a Chairman you are always referred to as such. Thus, there was nothing unusual about my being referred to as Mr. Chairman.

To administer his coup-de-grace, Milbank literally makes up another cheap shot that I “was having so much fun that [I] ignored aides’ entreaties to end the session.” This did not occur. None of my aides offered entreaties to end the session and I have no idea where Milbank gets that information. The hearing certainly ran longer than expected, but that was because so many Members of Congress persevered under very difficult circumstances to attend, and I thought - given that - the least I could do was allow them to say their piece. That is called courtesy, not “fun.”

By the way, the “Downing Street Memo” is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials - having just met with their American counterparts - describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank’s article.

The fact that I and my fellow Democrats had to stuff a hearing into a room the size of a large closet to hold a hearing on an important issue shouldn’t make us the object of ridicule. In my opinion, the ridicule should be placed in two places: first, at the feet of Republicans who are so afraid to discuss ideas and facts that they try to sabotage our efforts to do so; and second, on Dana Milbank and the Washington Post, who do not feel the need to give serious coverage on a serious hearing about a serious matter-whether more than 1700 Americans have died because of a deliberate lie. Milbank may disagree, but the Post certainly owed its readers some coverage of that viewpoint.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.

________________

Thank you, Rep John Conyers. Please remain as committed as you are now. Lots of us are behind you one hundred percent and we thank you very much for your efforts. Trying to serve your country’s best interests is not always easy, is it?



 

Holy War

Friday, 7:10 am

By Kate

Jun

17

2005

light rain

During my first and second cups of coffee this morning, I spent some quality time over at the Southern Poverty Law Center reading the headliner in their spring 2005 magazine, Intelligence Report, entitled Holy War: The religious crusade against gays has been building for 30 years. Now the movement is reaching truly biblical proportions.

What I think should be noted, if you are not entirely familiar with the Southern Poverty Law Center, is that the Intelligence Report is the publication for their division called the Intelligence Project, which, as they point out, “monitors hate groups and extremist activities throughout the U.S.” So yes, for maybe the first time the groups comprising the Holy Wars are being called hate groups and/or extremists by a well-respected organization that has tracked hate groups and assisted law enforcement personnel in this country for a long time. That is notable.

What I had forgotten is that the religious right has been attacking gays and lesbians, in an organized fashion, for the last 30 years. Taking their cues from Anita Bryant who headed a nasty group called Save Our Children, they have soldiered on, forming powerful coalitions and gaining incredible strength and bright new ideas. Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism, being one of them. These are serious folks with names we hear in the news often—James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, to name a few.

They are a mixed bag of issues, though they are intensely focused on denying gay rights. And that is probably secondary, but integral, to their goal of “Reclaiming America for Christ” or, in other words, turning the United States into a Biblical Kingdom. Seriously. The anti-gay issues are a galvanizing tool they’ve used effectively to further their more hidden agenda. They’re not doing badly at it, if we recall that through their mighty efforts they stirred the populace in 11 states, this past election cycle, to pass anti-gay legislation. And recently coerced Microsoft into abandoning support for gay rights legislation in Washington state, which led to its defeat. They are fabulously well-funded and their power is increasing across the country, but especially in Washington, DC.

As the article states:

But never has the anti-gay movement had the momentum it has now, and never has it been so close to achieving its larger, ultimate goal. That goal is winning, in the words of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a “second civil war” for control of the U.S. government.

Holy Wars is an article you should read. It charts the history of the movement and the players involved. And how they were influenced to use and learned how to use politics as their means for victory.

Also of interest:

Thirty Years War: a timeline of the anti-gay movement.
A Mighty Army: anti-gay group profiles.