C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" segment started out yesterday morning as typically
sedate -- two members of Congress soberly dispensing wisdom about the threat from
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But then Bob Filner, a five-term Democrat from
California, said something that made South Carolina freshman Republican Joe Wilson
Filner, who opposes unilateral U.S. military action, suggested that in the
1980s, when U.S. officials sided with Iraq in its war against Iran, Saddam Hussein
obtained biological and chemical weapons technology from the United States. "We
gave it to him," Filner asserted.
"That is wrong. That's made up," Wilson fired back. "I can't believe you would say something like that."
When Filner calmly held his ground, advising Wilson to read newspaper reports and other documentation, the Republican erupted: "This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous. And you need to get over that."
As moderator Connie Brod sat by helplessly, Filner challenged: "Hatred of
America? . . . Are you accusing me?"
"Yes!" Wilson shouted. For good measure, over the next minute Wilson accused Filner of harboring "hatred of America" four more times, of being "hateful" three times and of being "viscerally anti-American" once. Filner responded, "This is not worth replying to," and Brod finally regained control of the discussion by taking viewer phone calls.
"After the show ended, I told him, 'That was over the line,' " Filner told us later. "He started arguing with me and the aide who was with him said, 'Congressman, we better go.' "
Shortly after the broadcast, Filner encountered a Republican colleague who had seen the fireworks. "If that guy had said that to me, I would have punched him out," Filner quoted the Republican as saying. He refused to identify his sympathizer. "Listen, I was one of the first Freedom Riders in Mississippi in the early 1960s," Filner told us. "I've been beaten up and thrown in jail by better people than Joe Wilson."
Wilson wouldn't get on the phone with us but did send a written statement in which he defended his position that Filner is all wet. But he added: "If I said something in the heat of the debate that was taken as critical of the congressman's patriotism or commitment to this country, I apologize. As a 28-year member of the Army National Guard, I take these accusations very personally."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company