On Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a speech where he referenced a poor young boy who preferred having his lunch made for him rather than getting a free lunch at school since it showed that somebody cared for him at home. The way Ryan framed the story, it was made to appear that free school lunches were harming our children and American society. Essentially, his case is that we might be filling the stomachs of our children, but we are emptying their souls. Below is the relevant excerpt.
“The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy, Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
As Rmuse wrote earlier on Friday, there seemed to be something ‘suspiciously specious’ about this story. Well, he was absolutely correct. Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog at the Washington Post, decided to look into Ryan’s claim and found that it was a complete fabrication. Eloise Anderson never actually spoke to a young boy who told her this story. She lifted this story from a book that was written in 2011 called “The Invisible Thread.” The book detailed the story of an 11-year old homeless boy, Maurice Mazyck, who was befriended by the book’s author, Laura Schroff.
Schroff gave the boy two options for help with food. Either she could give him money at the beginning of the week and he’d have to budget it, or she could take him to the store, buy food for the week for him and then provide him with a lunch every day. The boy asked if he could have food for lunch and if it could be packed in a brown paper bag. He stated that if it was packed for him in a bag, it would show he had someone at home that cared for him.
Anderson apparently got her inspiration when Mazyck, at that time an adult, repeated the story on a talk show when talking about the book. Anderson acted as if she had spoken to a young boy directly, who had told her this story, when she spoke to Ryan and Congress last year. She then added the part about him being ashamed of having a free school lunch. Nowhere in the book did Mazyck bring up free school lunch programs. Also, the interaction between Schroff and Mazyck described in the book happened 25 years ago. Anderson insinuated in her remarks to Congress that this had all happened recently.
The best part of all is that Anderson, and then Ryan, used the story of the relationship between Mazyck and Schroff. Mazyck and Schroff are advocates trying to end childhood hunger in America and want school lunch programs and SNAP benefits to be EXPANDED, not cut back or eliminated. They are in complete opposition of Ryan’s views and went on the record against his budget. So it seems pretty darn funny that Ryan is using their story to further his agenda.
Kessler gave Ryan’s speech Four Pinocchios, essentially calling it a flat-out lie, and a dangerous one to boot. Below is what he wrote in handing out that rating.
Here at The Fact Checker, we often deal with situations in which people misspeak. We certainly don’t try to play gotcha. But this is a different order of magnitude. Anderson, in congressional testimony, represented that she spoke to this child — and then ripped the tale out of its original context. That’s certainly worthy of Four Pinocchios.
But what about Ryan? Should he get a pass because he heard this from a witness before Congress? It really depends on the circumstances. In this case, he referenced the story in a major speech. The burden always falls on the speaker, and we believe politicians need to check the facts in any prepared remarks.
In this case, apparently, the story was too good to check. We appreciate he is regretful now. But a simple inquiry would have determined that the person telling the story actually is an advocate for the federal programs that Ryan now claims leave people with “a full stomach and an empty soul.” So he also earns Four Pinocchios.
Ryan has tried to give himself an excuse for using that huge lie in his speech. Obviously, he’s blamed Anderson, who pushed the fib to begin with. He also said he should have done a better job verifying the story before including it in a speech. The only thing he is truly sorry for is that he got caught. That story was just too good not to use and if nobody fact-checked it, it would have been used over and over again. Without that story proving to be true, especially how it was presented in his speech, the entire substance of what he was trying to convey crumbles apart.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).