Thursday, November 30, 2006

Webb's Not A Boor; Will's A Liar

George Will calls Jim Webb a "boor" over the recent terse conversation between Webb and Pres. Bush:

Wednesday's Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb "tried to avoid President Bush," refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq." When the president again asked "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "That's between me and my boy." Webb told The Post:

"I'm not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall. No offense to the institution of the presidency, and I'm certainly looking forward to working with him and his administration. [But] leaders do some symbolic things to try to convey who they are and what the message is."

Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb's more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being -- one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another. [...]

Considering that Pres. Bush is the one who trumped up fake reasons to start the war in which Jim Webb's son is risking his life, I see nothing "civil or caring" about his question. On the contrary, the question was provocative, insensitive, and even taunting.

But never mind all that for now. Will isn't even quoting the conversation accurately, as Greg Sargent points out:

Will says the episode demonstrates Webb's "calculated rudeness toward another human being" -- i.e., the President -- who "asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another."

But do you notice something missing from Will's recounting of the episode?

Here's how the Washingon Post actually reported on the episode the day before Will's column:

At a recent White House reception for freshman members of Congress, Virginia's newest senator tried to avoid President Bush. Democrat James Webb declined to stand in a presidential receiving line or to have his picture taken with the man he had often criticized on the stump this fall. But it wasn't long before Bush found him.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

See what happened? Will omitted the pissy retort from the President that provoked Webb. Will cut out the line from the President where he said: "That's not what I asked you." In Will's recounting, that instead became a sign of Bush's parental solicitiousness: "The president again asked `How's your boy?'"

Will's change completely alters the tenor of the conversation from one in which Bush was rude first to Webb, which is what the Post's original account suggested, to one in which Webb was inexplicably rude to the President, which is how Will wanted to represent what happened.

It's virtually impossible to see how that could have been the result of mere incompetence on Will's part. Rather, it's very clear that Will cut the line because it was an inconvenient impediment to his journalistic goal, which was to portray Webb as a "boor" who was rude to the Commander in Chief, and to show that this new upstart is a threat to Washington's alleged code of "civility and clear speaking" (his words). On that score, also note that in the original version, Webb said "Mr. President" twice -- and neither appeared in Will's version.

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