Larry Rohter Takes a Wrench to "Joe the Plumber"

Don't cross our favorite candidate or this may happen to you: "As it turns out, Joe the Plumber...may work in the plumbing business, but he is not a licensed plumber....His full name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. And he owes back taxes, too, public records show."

EmbarrassObama, and expect the liberal media to go after you, no matter who you are: That's what National Review journalist Byron York warned early Thursday afternoon.

He was quickly proven right bya story from reporter Larry Rohter in Friday'sTimes, "Real Deal On Plumber Reveals New Slant,"in which Rohtertook a wrench to Joe Wurzelbacher (aka "Joe the Plumber"), the citizen who dared to question Obama on his tax plan as the Democrat campaigned in his neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. Obama responded with a classic paleo-liberal cliche: "I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

That insight into Obama's mindset was politically fascinating, but Rohter buried it in the 11th paragraph of his story, focusing his investigation on such vital matters as "Joe's" actual first name (Samuel) and whether or not he has a plumber's license.

The story was teased with an over-the-fold front-page photo of Wurzelbacher talking to the press. The caption sneered: "Joe Wurzelbacher, a national figure after Wednesday's presidential debate, learned Thursday that fame has two sides." As if Wurzelbacher intended to become famous when he had the temerity to ask the media's favored candidate a challenging question.

One week ago, Joe Wurzelbacher was just another working man living in a modest house outside Toledo, Ohio, and thinking about how to buy the plumbing business where he works. But when he stopped Senator Barack Obama during a visit to his block last weekend to complain about taxes, he set himself on a path to becoming America's newest media celebrity - and as such suddenly found himself facing celebrity-level scrutiny.

Besides digging up other grievous scandals such as Wurzelbacher allegedly committing acts of plumbing without government permission, Rohter found a local union official (whose union endorsed Obama) to hammer him.

As it turns out, Joe the Plumber, as he became nationally known when Senator John McCain made him a theme at Wednesday's final presidential debate, may work in the plumbing business, but he is not a licensed plumber.

Thomas Joseph, the business manager of Local 50 of the United Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Service Mechanics, based in Toledo, said Thursday that Mr. Wurzelbacher had never held a plumber's license, which is required in Toledo and several surrounding municipalities. He also never completed an apprenticeship and does not belong to the plumber's union, which has endorsed Mr. Obama. On Thursday, he acknowledged that he does plumbing work even though he does not have a license.

His full name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. And he owes back taxes, too, public records show. The premise of his complaint to Mr. Obama about taxes may also be flawed, according to tax analysts. Contrary to what Mr. Wurzelbacher asserted and Mr. McCain echoed, neither his personal taxes nor those of the business where he works are likely to rise if Mr. Obama's tax plan were to go into effect, they said.

Why would the Times go after an ordinary Joe asking a presidential candidate a question at a campaign stop? Oh, right:

But he became the hero of conservatives and Republicans when he stopped Mr. Obama, who was campaigning on his street, and asked whether he believed in the American dream. Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was concerned about having to pay higher taxes as an owner of a small business.

"I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year," he told Mr. Obama. "Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?"

That encounter wound up on YouTube and led to appearances on the Fox News Channel, interviews with conservative bloggers and a New York Post editorial, all of whom seized on a small part of Mr. Obama's long reply. "I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," Mr. Obama had said.


According to public records, Mr. Wurzelbacher has been subject to two liens, each over $1,100. One, with a hospital, has been settled, but a tax lien with the State of Ohio is still outstanding.

The Times has already shown far more avid curiosity about Wurzelbacher's personal life than it ever displayed regarding Obama's domestic terrorist supporter, Bill Ayers.

There's a double standard at workat the Timesregarding the privateaffairs of public citizens thrust into the political spotlight. Back in October 2007, Democrats paraded 12-year old Baltimore resident Graeme Frost as its poster boy for expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a government program to assist families without health insurance. The program helped Graeme after a car accident left him in comatose for a week. The Democratic Party pushed him into the spotlight to deliver the Democratic radio address on September 29, 2007 (hat tip K. Daniel Glover at

When conservatives pointed out that the Frost family was hardly destitute and could have easily afforded health insurance onits own, the Times and the rest of the media were aghast at conservatives forprying into the Frost's family finances. Times reporter David Herszenhorn went after bloggers for "attacking a family with injured children."

But go after the media messiah and you are fair game for pro-Obama reporters like Rohter.