Dana Milbank’s irresistible narrative


What Washington Post writer Dana Milbank thought he saw and heard while live blogging a forum at The Heritage Foundation turned out to be, well, not what Milbank thought he saw and heard.

And in that characterization, I am cutting slack to Milbank.

After posting a recap of the event online in which Milbank said it “deteriorated into the ugly taunting of a woman in the room who wore an Islamic head covering,” Media Matters (a far-left political organization pretending to be a journalism organization) posted a partial video on the event, smelling the narrative of mean, old conservatives picking on a well-meaning, peaceful Islamic woman.

Only problem is that when people saw the video and compared it to Mr. Milbank’s characterization of the event, it just didn’t jibe.

In fact, the exchange between the woman and the panel was measured and certainly not ugly by the standards of most. Two panel members, in fact, thanked the woman for her question because, even though the panel never mentioned the dynamic of middle-ground Islam followers and radical followers, it gave them the opportunity to address the issue — can bad things happen within a religion under the noses of the “good majority?”

Give big kudos to Dylan Byers of Politico who was one of the first reporters to call out Milbank for his mischaracterization.

You can read his point-by-point knock-down of Milbank’s initial report here. You can also find links to the video. Take the time to read Milbank and then watch the video. There’s no room for doubt that Milbank got it wrong.

One take-away from this exchange is that we need more media types like Byers who are willing to call it like it is, even if it rubs against their personal biases or friendships.

The second lesson is to understand that these kinds of things happen. Sometimes it is willful — like I would say Media Matters does multiple times a day — and sometimes it is just a journalist and his/her editors succumbing to the irresistible narrative that reinforces that particular journalist’s or news organization’s biases.

Both liberals and conservatives in the media do this. It is easy journalism, but not good journalism.

If we can learn those simple lessons from this episode the public will be better served.

Resist pre-conceived narratives … the “red meat” as it is sometimes called. Just tell it like it is. Readers and listeners can, and will, respect that.