WASHINGTON (AP) _ It made headlines: President Bush visited a grocers' convention and seemed amazed at the high-tech supermarket checkout equipment.

Pundits and cartoonists seized upon the incident as evidence that Bush was out of touch with everyday life after 11 years in government mansions.

But the White House and the systems engineer who showed Bush a checkout stand scanner cried foul Monday.

''He's seen those (scanners) many times. This is a story that is totally media-manufactured and maintained,'' said White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater.

The scanner Bush viewed at the National Grocers Association convention in Orlando last Tuesday had special capabilities that set it apart from ordinary checkout machines, Fitzwater said.

Bob Graham, an NCR Corp. systems analyst who showed Bush the scanner, said in a telephone interview Monday: ''The whole thing is ludicrous. What he was amazed about was the ability of the scanner to take that torn label and reassemble it.''

A videotape shot by a press pool quoted Bush as saying ''This is the scanner, the newest scanner?''

''Of course, this looks like a typical scanner you'd see in a grocery store,'' Graham replied.

''Yeah,'' said Bush.

''There's one big difference,'' said Graham, lifting off the scanner's top plate to reveal a scale underneath. He weighed and rang up a red apple.

The exhibitor had Bush put the machine through its paces before he showed off what he called the machine's ''really quite amazing'' new feature.

He had Bush scan a card with a universal product code ripped and jumbled into five pieces. The machine read it and rang up the correct sale.

''Isn't that something,'' the president said.

Later, Bush told the grocers, ''I just took a tour through the exhibits here - amazed by some of the technology.''

Syndicated cartoonist Pat Oliphant made light of the episode last week by showing a giddy Bush careening through a modern supermarket. And Jonathan Yardley, in a column Monday in The Washington Post, harrumphed:

''The man who runs the United States of America confessed last week ... that he's so out of touch with the daily lives of his constituents, he doesn't even know how they go about buying the food they put on their tables.''

Yardley said Bush's 1992 campaign needs a ''reality check - more specifically, a checkout check.''