Monday, January 01, 2007

George Bush and OCR

Fred is a darn good writer. I liked him just fine when he was writing a column in the Navy Times* and I like him just fine now as an ex-pat living the good life in Mexico. His latest is pretty good and the nit I'm about to pick does not detract from the main point which is
It doesn’t matter whether an investment banker has seen a barracks or a pair of work gloves. It bothers me to have policy made, and wars started, by those who have never seen the country they rule, or the world they play with, who have never had to make a living, to carry a rifle or worry about snipers, who have never run the back alleys of Taipei or anywhere else and, god help us, can’t serve their own potatoes.
However he launched his column thusly
Two incidents come to mind, of no shattering import but serving as windsocks. First, a politician I barely know, but of import in the making of national policy, told me recently that he had never been in Washington’s subway, though he lives in Washington. Second, there was the astonishment of the senior Bush on observing the technology of a checkout line in a supermarket, into none of which had he apparently been. He didn’t know how to buy groceries.
That last didn't happen the way it was reported. It really bugs me when people just accept urban legends and report them as fact, when fact checking is so damned easy.
In 1992 President George Bush went to a Florida trade show. A gentleman showed him the latest development in scanner technology for supermarket checkout lines; it could read and reconstruct the information on torn labels — a pretty big deal for optical-recognition technology and for people like me who get stuck behind customers who like to buy 35 cans of potted meat from the marked-down bin.

How big a deal it really was is irrelevant, President Bush was polite and made a big deal out of it nonetheless. Still, Gregg McDonald, of the Houston Chronicle, the print reporter in the pool covering Bush that day, didn't even mention the event in his own coverage. But that didn't stop Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times from writing up the story. He used two paragraphs from McDonald's pool report and a misleading photo of Bush looking surprised at what seemed to be a normal check-out scanner. They ran the article on page one as a sign that George Bush was not a man of the people. The event quickly became shorthand for Bush's aloofness.

Soon, the story was completely debunked by — among others — Brit Hume, then with ABC. Writing in The American Spectator , Hume wrote that even though the story was "almost wholly untrue….[it] became part of the legend of a President who just didn't know how things were out there in the real world."
Why am I bothering? With luck the power of google might bring this post up and help debunk a myth.

*I don't just like him because he's a Marine - but it helps
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