No evidence can be found to support a story circulating widely on the Internet about President George W. Bush taking time out during a banquet for volunteer staff to lead a teenager to faith in Jesus Christ.
While not discounting the president’s Christian faith or evangelistic zeal, two firms that specialize in tracking down so-called “urban legends” on the Internet have labeled the e-mail message a hoax.
Likewise, the Baptist Standard made two calls to the Bush-Cheney transition team’s communication office specifically seeking clarification on the Internet story. Those calls were not returned. The Standard also attempted to contact Jeff Benoit of Austin, the person credited in the e-mail message as the source of the account about Bush.
The Austin phone book lists only one person by such a name, and he did not return a call from the Standard to confirm the story.
According to the e-mail account, Bush attended a thank-you banquet for his campaign’s volunteer staff the last week of December. He went from table to table shaking hands with the volunteers. As he did so, he met a woman who had brought her 16-year-old son with her.
“Gov. Bush asked him if he was a believer too,” the account states. “He said he didn’t think so. Gov. Bush then asked, ‘Do you mind if I tell you how I came to know Christ as my Savior?’ The boy agreed, and Gov. Bush pulled up a chair and witnessed to him for 30 minutes, and led him in the sinner’s prayer.”
The Internet research sites Urban Legends Reference Pages and Truth or Fiction.com have identified the story as a hoax. Both companies said they had talked with Bush campaign insiders, including some Christians, and none of them knew anything about such an event actually occurring.
Furthermore, the Bush campaign held no formal thank-you banquet for its volunteers because the prolonged controversy over the vote count kept the campaign staff too busy. A reception for volunteers was held later at the governor’s mansion in Austin, but Bush did not attend.
Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter Ken Herman, who is covering the Bush transition for the Austin American-Statesman confirmed with Bush staff that the story is not true, according to a report by Cox News Service. “No banquet, no story, never happened,” Herman told the national news service.
Both Internet research companies also point out that Bush’s time is so closely managed it is highly unlikely he would be able to spend 30 minutes witnessing to a teenager at a banquet, even if he wanted to.
In an article posted on the Urban Legends Reference Pages, Barbara Mikkelson writes that Americans should not be surprised such an apocryphal story would be spread over the Internet.
“Tales that seek to highlight the sterling qualities of incoming presidents provide ways for supporters to proclaim that their man is not like the bum leaving office and thus are a time-honored tradition no matter who is on his way out and who is on his way in.”
“Such tales also work to reassure folks, both those who voted for the newcomer and those who didn’t, that this new man is a decent sort of guy and that he will do right by the country,” she said.
Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Baptist Standard in Dallas, Texas.