Paul Ryan’s four Pinocchios yarn echoes an old Jack Kemp story

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Our colleague, Washington Post Fact Checker extraordinaire Glenn Kessler, took former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to task on Thursday after Ryan spoke at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference and criticized school lunches.

Ryan talked about  an impoverished kid  who, offered a ” free lunch from a government program,” said no, he wanted it in a “a brown-paper bag just like the other kids” because that would show he “had someone who cared for him.” Ryan said, “This is what the left does not understand.”

 

Ryan said he heard the story from a woman who met the boy: Eloise Anderson, who runs the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

But Wonkette,  a satiric blog, wondered if that story was actually from a book by Laura Schroff about a  busy executive and an 11-year-old homeless kid, Maurice Mazyck, Kessler wrote. This all seemed a  “a little strange, ”  he noted, since Schroff and Mazyck both work with an organization that connects “hungry kids with federal programs such as school lunches and food stamps” and opposed Ryan’s proposed budget reductions for food stamps.

Anderson’s office told Kessler that she “misspoke” when saying she had actually talked to Mazyck, who’s now in his late 30s. Ryan posted a notice on Facebook saying, “I regret failing to verify the original source of the story.”

The Fact Checker gave Ryan the worst rating, four Pinocchios, noting that Anderson “ripped the tale out of its original context” in a book that had nothing to do with school lunch programs and Ryan failed to check that “the person telling the story is actually an advocate for” federal programs.

Well, repeating stories can be tricky things, as Ryan’s former boss, former vice presidential candidate and congressman Jack Kemp discovered in 1996, according to a Loop item we wrote back then:

As anyone who’s played “telephone” can tell you, stories often change slightly with each retelling.

Take vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp’s oft-used story about a 10-year-old boy at Chicago’s Henry Horner public housing project. The little boy responded to a question from reporter Alex Kotlowitz about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

The boy said “if,” not “when,” he grew up, he wanted to be a bus driver.                          

In his acceptance speech in San Diego in August and a week later at a black journalists convention, Kemp said he read that account in Kotlowitz’s 1991 book “There Are No Children Here.”

By Sept. 30 in Palo Alto, Calif., Kemp dropped the middle man, Kotlowitz, and said he was at the project and “a little boy was asked . . . “

By Oct. 12, Kemp is talking directly to the child. “I was in Chicago at a public housing community,” Kemp said in Stockton, Calif. “I asked a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.” Later that day in Medford, Ore., he said: “We want a country in which no little boy ever again says to me, as he did in Chicago’s Henry Horner public housing. . . . He said, ‘Mr. Kemp, if I grow up . . .’ “

Hey, much shorter and to the point in the revised version.

 

 

 

 

 

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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