A little incident between President Bush and the newly electred Democratic Senator Jim Webb took place a few days ago:
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.
George Will, a conservative columnist wrote about it like this:
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."
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."
This is what can be called journamalism. Will omitted the crucial sentence in the actual conversation, the one that made Webb's answer into something else than calculated rudeness, the sentence that would probably have made almost anyone in Webb's shoes to be at least a little pissed off.
Now here is the real problem in reading just people from one side of the political spectrum. The message can become distorted in the process of being attacked from a partisan angle, and the changes are not always quite as deliberate-seeming as here.
George Will is one of the people who got me interested in American politics, by the way. I was waiting for a plane or a train and started reading a newspaper someone had left behind. It had a column by Will and that column bashed people just like me in a way which was mean-spirited and uncalled-for, especially as the group had done nothing wrong or nothing illegal. So Will gave me my virgin flight in identity politics, and I have never forgotten that. Heh.