Pravda on the Potomac
by Congressman John Conyers, Jr.
Mr. Michael Abramowitz, National Editor;
Mr. Michael Getler, Ombudsman;
Mr. Dana Milbank
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20071
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
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
John Conyers, Jr.
June 20, 2005
John Conyers, Jr. is a congressman from Michigan.