Milking Your Sources

Whether he realized it or not, Sam Stoltzfus of Gordonville, Pa., recently joined the ranks of national political correspondents. His report on a July 9 visit by President Bush to the Lancaster County village of Smoketown has become the talk of the internet.

Stoltzfus, a member of the Old Order Amish sect and sometime correspondent for The Dairy, a monthly publication by and for members of the Amish community, snagged a scoop from one of his sources. As with all good gossip columnists, he ran with it — straight to Jack Brubaker of the Lancaster New Era, a guy who writes a bi-weekly column (registration required) called The Scribbler about local happenings.

The rest, they say, is history.

After Bush addressed an invited audience at Lapp Electric in Smoketown, he was presented an Amish quilt. He asked to meet the quilter and her family, according to Stoltzfus (via Brubaker). Ultimately, 60 friends and family arrived for a private session with the president. One of those in attendance then described the event to Stoltzfus, who related it to Brubaker thusly: “It took a while to get them through the metal detectors as these were farmers and shop men, with vice grips, pocket knives, and nuts and bolts in their pockets. Some ladies had baby gear. All pockets had to be emptied.”

Stoltzfus (whom Brubaker once described as “one of the more flamboyant of The Dairy’s many colorful writers”) continues: The Amish “caught Bush’s heart.” The president even donned an Amish hat, but he turned down the offer of a whoopie pie cookie. (Apparently the Secret Service intervened on that one.)

As he was about to leave, Bush told the group — according to Stoltzfus’ source — “I trust God speaks through me. Without that I couldn’t do my job.”

Faster than a hyperlink, the anecdote took on a life of its own, among bloggers and on web sites.

Nearly as fast, the White House launched a denial.

So, who’re ya gonna believe — a guy who would turn down a whoopie pie cookie, or a bearded guy in a flat-brimmed hat and black suit?

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.