NYT's Bruni Forwards Supermarket Scanner Urban Legend About George H.W. Bush

January 17th, 2012 2:53 PM

A Sunday New York Times column on politicians and wealth from Frank Bruni, who was a White House reporter during the administration of George W. Bush, treated as factual a likely urban legend (well circulated in the liberal media, as shown by Newsbuster Jack Coleman) about the first President Bush: “Running From Millions.” It came after criticizing Mitt Romney as a rich phony:

And Republican or Democrat, they often go to laughable lengths to play that down. A recurring theme from just about every election cycle is the economic altitude of candidates who insist on playacting that they’re less loftily removed from the so-called common man than they really are. Time and again we’re treated to a comedy of manners with predictable pratfalls and a clear take-away: although there has long been a significant economic disparity between the rulers and the ruled, neither group can get entirely comfortable with it.


To make matters more fraught, he’s campaigning during a time of exaggerated income inequality and increasingly loud complaints about it. A survey released by the Pew Research Center last week showed that 66 percent of Americans consider the conflict between the haves and have-nots to be “very strong” or “strong.” In 2009, only 47 percent of respondents said that.

Romney’s adjustment to that is a work in awkward progress. Last June, he told Florida voters that as a candidate, he, too, was essentially unemployed. He was kidding, but still.

He wasn’t kidding last week when he told New Hampshire voters that he had begun his career “at the entry level,” as if the Harvard-educated son of a former governor and corporate chieftain grabs hold of the same first rung that others do. And he assured them that he had known the fear of “a pink slip.” They probably thought he was talking about lingerie.

He’s almost uniquely clumsy with quips that draw inadvertent attention to his affluence. Bet you $10,000 you can’t name someone clumsier.

Bruni lauded big-government pols of the past as defenders of the less fortunate:

There’s no simple relationship between privilege and policy. The Roosevelts and Kennedys, both spectacularly rich families, produced leaders known for their populism and protection of the less fortunate. Nancy Pelosi, a staunch defender of government aid, is thought to be worth as much as $196 million. John Boehner? Just $1.8 million, according to figures from 2010.


But he walks a tightrope, wanting to broadcast his success without seeming out of touch. A wealthy candidate’s aides guard against tone-deaf admissions of privilege while opponents itch to pounce, as the first President Bush’s did in 1992, when he seemed unfamiliar with a grocery store’s electronic price scanner.

Once again the Times treats as fact this cherished liberal myth, itself based on a February 1992 Times story by future Times editorial page editor and (easily frighened leftist) Andrew Rosenthal. Even the left-leaning myth-busters at Snopes debunked the incident as a gross exaggeration, while faulting the shallowness of Rosenthal’s reporting:

Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times (who wrote first story in 1992 campaign citing Bush's encounter with the scanner as indicative of Bush as out of touch) hadn't even been present at the grocers' convention (where Bush was shown the scanner). 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 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.