September 5, 2004

WHEN, OH, WHEN, WILL WE GET A DECENT PRESS CORPS? Today’s New York Times contains an article by Kate Zernike with this passage:

Like the helmeted Michael Dukakis peeking out of the tank, or the first George Bush bewildered at the grocery scanner, the photo of Mr. Kerry windsurfing played into the negative stereotype his opponents are trying to play up – in this case, that of the out-of-touch, elitist Massachusetts liberal.

Maybe she copped that from Juan Gonzales in the Daily News a couple of days earlier, who wrote: “Can we ever forget the look of utter amazement on Bush, the father, the first time he found himself facing an electronic scanner at a supermarket counter 12 years ago?”

Of course, as Snopes notes, the story isn’t true. And it’s even a famous error by The New York Times itself:

Claim: During a photo opportunity at a 1988 grocers’ convention, President George Bush was “amazed” at encountering supermarket scanners for the first time.

Status: False. . . .

One of the exhibits Bush visited was a demonstration of NCR’s checkout scanning technology, an event New York Times reporter Andrew Rosenthal turned into a chiding front page story about Bush’s lack of familiarity with the details of ordinary life in America. . . . Then the details of the story started to dribble out. Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times hadn’t even been present at the grocers’ convention. He based his article on a two-paragraph report filed by the lone pool newspaperman allowed to cover the event, Gregg McDonald of the Houston Chronicle, who merely wrote that Bush had a “look of wonder” on his face and didn’t find the event significant enough to mention in his own story. Moreover, Bush had good reason to express wonder: He wasn’t being shown then-standard scanner technology, but a new type of scanner that could weigh groceries and read mangled and torn bar codes.

Dana Milbank has recycled this urban myth, too. (“Recall George H.W. Bush’s wonderment in the 1992 campaign upon coming across a supermarket scanner.”)

Good thing they’re not sloppy, careless, incapable of research, and prone to spout urban legends and bogus reports of events they didn’t even witness, like us bloggers.

UPDATE: In a related development Ann Althouse shows up Joe Klein, through the miracle of counting! “That took less than five minutes to figure out. Come on, Klein!”

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Economist isn’t looking so good, either. What’s going on here?

MORE: Reader Bob Kingsbery emails:


One reason I got a degree in journalism was because it required the fewest math classes.

This explains a lot, actually.

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