New York Times Revives Debunked Bush Scanner Piece For H.W.’s Obit

Kerry Picket | Reporter

The New York Times obituary of President George H.W. Bush revived a long debunked 1992 campaign story that originated from their own paper.

The obituary referenced a 1992 reelection campaign stop where Bush walked the floor of a grocery store trade show in February of that year. He was portrayed as being “amazed” by the new supermarket scanner technology. (RELATED: Here Were George H. W. Bush’s Final Words To His Family)

The obituary, which included the original file photo of the event of Bush staring at the scanner in bewilderment, recounted NYT’s original piece which alluded to Bush being out of touch with ordinary Americans because supermarket scanner technology existed since at least the late 1970’s. (RELATED: Jenna Bush’s Touching Statement Reveals Her ‘Gampy’s’ Thoughts On Death)

However, The Times, again, omitted several key issues from the story. Andrew Rosenthal, who would later be elevated to head up The Times editorial page, wrote in his February 1992 Times piece:

As President Bush travels the country in search of re-election, he seems unable to escape a central problem: This career politician, who has lived the cloistered life of a top Washington bureaucrat for decades, is having trouble presenting himself to the electorate as a man in touch with middle-class life.

Today, for instance, [Bush] emerged from 11 years in Washington’s choicest executive mansions to confront the modern supermarket. Visiting the exhibition hall of the National Grocers Association convention here, Mr. Bush lingered at the mock-up of a checkout lane. He signed his name on an electronic pad used to detect check forgeries.

The facade of the New York Times building is seen in New York, November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The facade of the New York Times building is seen in New York, November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“‘If some guy came in and spelled George Bush differently, could you catch it?’ the President asked. ‘Yes,’ he was told, and he shook his head in wonder.”

“Then he grabbed a quart of milk, a light bulb and a bag of candy and ran them over an electronic scanner. The look of wonder flickered across his face again as he saw the item and price registered on the cash register screen,” the Times wrote.

In 2008, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg challenged the 1992 New York Times report, pointing to a 1992 Associated Press story about the event.

The AP spoke to Bob Graham, an NCR Corp. systems analyst who showed Bush the scanner at the time.

“The whole thing is ludicrous,” Graham told the AP. “What he was amazed about was the ability of the scanner to take that torn label and reassemble it.”

Additionally, Bush’s press secretary Marlin Fitzwater confirmed to the AP that Bush had “seen those (scanners) many times. This is a story that is totally media-manufactured and maintained.”

Later, a videotape from the press pool emerged showing the conversation between Graham and Bush discussing the scanner technology at the time.

After showing the president several of the scanner’s features, Graham exhibited the company’s newest concept. He had Bush scan a card with a torn up universal product code. The scanner could still accurately read the item and ring it up.

“Isn’t that something,” said Bush, who later told grocers he was “amazed by some of the technology.”

Rosenthal went on to write The New York Times’ front page piece, “Bush Encounters The Supermarket, Amazed.”

However, other reporters at the time questioned the Times’ reporting. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz confirmed Rosenthal was never at the grocer’s trade show but reportedly wrote his story from a two-paragraph pool report, yet the pool reporter from the Houston Chronicle, Gregg McDonald, did not include the scanner incident in his report.

Time Magazine disagreed with The New York Times’ conclusion, Kurtz noted. Time called the incident, “completely insignificant,” while Newsweek stated, “Bush acts curious and polite, but hardly amazed.”

According to Kurtz, the Times defended Rosenthal, saying that after watching network video of the event Bush “was clearly impressed” by the technology.

Philip Taubman, the Times’ deputy Washington editor at the time, declared “we stand by the original story, as the piece last week makes clear.”

More recently, online fact-checking site Snopes called out the 1992 New York Times story of Bush as false, saying, “The New York Times seemed to be one the only major print medium to take this view of the event, however.”

Nevertheless, the New York Times’ version of the story persists to this day. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews mocked Bush years later in a flashback segment as “discovering, if you will, the wonders of the supermarket scanner.”

In 2015, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow mocked not only Bush himself but those who debunked the New York Times story.

She said, “In the years since that happened, that story has sort of taken on a life of its own. Some people have tried to debunk it — Of course Poppy Bush had been in a supermarket before!” Maddow added,  “Of course he was aware that supermarkets had been using electronic scanners since the 1970s! He just said he was amazed by it because it was still amazing all those years later, right, they’ve come up with to try to, sort of, debunk it. ”

The Daily Caller reached out to Times reporter Adam Nagourney, who wrote George H.W. Bush‘s obituary, and asked why the paper still stands by the long debunked story. Nagourney only referred TheDC to New York Times Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications Eileen Murphy who has not responded.

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