The Partisanship of Omitting Damaging Facts

Wow, what happened to the George Will I enjoyed during the buildup to the election? Instead of that almost libertarian version, today we get a curmudgeonly piece of partisan nonsense related to yesterday’s story about Senator-elect Webb. Consider:

That was certainly swift. Washington has a way of quickly acculturating people, especially those who are most susceptible to derangement by the derivative dignity of office. But Jim Webb, Democratic senator-elect from Virginia, has become a pompous poseur and an abuser of the English language before actually becoming a senator.

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 uses this to lead into his depiction of Senator-elect Webb as a boor. Possibly. We’re relying on second-hand reports. He also uses a piece of economic gobbledygook that Webb wrote after being elected as proof that Webb is out of control. To that charge, of course, the simple observation that every politician falls prey to hyperbole. They wouldn’t get elected if they didn’t. Asking for everything is the first step in negotiating for something. Webb is not the first to know this. I suspect Mr. Will knows this.

But more to the point, this is the full exchange between Webb and President Bush:

“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.

We have no idea how President Bush said that line, but the reasonable reading of it is certainly not innocent. Webb may be a boor, but President Bush comes off looking little better. Yet, Mr. Will left this out of his retelling. Why? The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant, I guess. I’d come to expect better from George Will.