George H. W. Bush and the Supermarket Scanner



The origin of this mistake is interesting.  A New York Times reporter, who was not with Bush at the event, rewrote a wire service story about Bush's visit to a trade show.  The Times reporter claimed that Bush had been surprised by an ordinary supermarket scanner.  Many people found this believable because Bush had grown up in a wealthy family and had, for many years, lived the sheltered life of a high official.

There are only two problems with the story.  First, Bush was not surprised.   The reporters who actually saw Bush at the event did not think he was unfamiliar with scanners.   Britt Hume, now of Fox News, who was there, saw nothing unusual about his behavior. In January 1998, The American Spectator printed an article by Hume in which he tried to correct the record.  As far as I can tell, no one outside of conservative circles noticed.  

Second, it was not an ordinary scanner.  This is an easy point to see if you turn it around.  Suppose the President is coming to visit your exhibit.  Do you show him something ordinary, or something special?   Obviously, something special, though naturally what is special to a scanner salesman may not be special to everyone.  The scanner was, in fact, a special model.  If I recall correctly, it could read damaged labels that ordinary scanners can not.  

Given how obvious this error is, one would like to think that the reporter, and the New York Times, would feel compelled to correct it.  Sadly they did not.  In fact, the reporter dug himself in deeper by getting a video tape of the visit and arguing that Bush did, too, look surprised by the scanner.  

Last revised: 2:55 PM, 16 July 2002