Kathryn, I’m not buying your readers’ interpretation. If the exchange was polite or normal, it would not have struck the reporter as remarkable. Admittedly, one has to trust the Washington Post to a certain extent that the reporter’s interpretation of events was accurate and that Webb was being — at best — gruff to the President of the United States who was trying to build bridges and the like. But there’s a reason the story starts with this anecdote and since the Post has generally been sycophantic to Webb, I have a hard time believing it’s suddenly being grotesquely unfair to the man. If you take the — by my lights — most reasonable view that the Post was fairly capturing a moment of extreme dyspepsia from Virginia’s junior Senator, then Bush’s response to Webb’s tone is understandable.
All of that said, do I think this is an enormous news story? Do I think this should definitively color our views of Webb? No, not at all.