Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) fired up the audience Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference with an anecdote about what he called the heartlessness of giving out free school lunches — but it turns out that “moving” story never really happened.
Ryan used a story about a young boy choosing a lovingly made brown bag lunch over a free school meal, relayed to him by Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson, to illustrate that Democrats offer Americans a “full stomach and an empty soul.”
But a shrewd TPM commenter observed that the anecdote closely resembled a book. From there, Wonkette picked up on the fishy tale, followed by Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler.
Kessler gave the story “four pinocchios” because Anderson presented it out of context.
H found Anderson told the story at a 2013 congressional hearing that Ryan chaired, and claimed she had spoken to the boy herself. Kessler notes the story closely paralleled an exchange from a book called “An Invisible Thread,” in which an executive offers to either give a young, homeless panhandler money to eat for the week or else make lunch for him each day. The boy insists on having his lunch made for him in a brown-paper bag, because that means “somebody cares” about him.
A spokesman for Anderson told Kessler that the secretary “misspoke” and was actually describing a television interview she had seen with Maurice Mazcyk, the boy described in the book. Kessler further noted that school lunch is not brought up in the book, which means Anderson inserted the program into the anecdote.
Ryan wrote Thursday on his Facebook page that he thanked Anderson for sharing her insights but regretted “failing to verify the original source of the story.”
The author of “An Invisible Thread,” Laurie Schroff, spoke with the Huffington Post about Ryan’s CPAC remarks and the origins of Anderson’s anecdote. She asserted that her book was not “political” and disagreed with Ryan’s “full stomach and an empty soul” comment.
“I want people to think about what they can do to make the world a kinder world,” Schroff said. “I don’t care about Republicans and Democrats. But we are talking about children that need to be fed. Cutting school lunch programs doesn’t accomplish that.”
This post has been updated.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.