Ben Carson, Politico and the truth

Ben Carson in Nashua, New Hampshire, in July. Photo (cc) by Marc Nozell.
Ben Carson in Nashua, New Hampshire, in July. Photo (cc) by Marc Nozell.

The doubts raised by Ben Carson and his defenders are beginning to recede. Politico’s story that the Republican presidential candidate had “fabricated” his oft-told tale about being offered a “free scholarship” to West Point is looking reasonably strong, though not perfect.

In an editor’s note that now appears at the top of the story, Politico says it stands behind staff writer Kyle Cheney’s reporting while conceding that the Carson campaign had not admitted to any falsehoods. Media blogger Erik Wemple of The Washington Post has a good rundown.

We still don’t know exactly what happened. My theory is that Politico’s editors took a solid story and got themselves into trouble by cranking the volume up to 11. But even though Carson is not admitting to anything (see this New York Times account of the uncharacteristically belligerent news conference over which he presided on Friday), the evidence is piling up that he is, in fact, a serial fabricator.

Particularly devastating is this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.*) by Reid Epstein that recounts the questions raised about Carson’s autobiography in recent days. It offers some new details as well. This passage is a jaw-dropper:

In his 1990 autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” Mr. Carson writes of a Yale psychology professor who told Mr. Carson, then a junior, and the other students in the class—identified by Mr. Carson as Perceptions 301 — that their final exam papers had “inadvertently burned,” requiring all 150 students to retake it. The new exam, Mr. Carson recalled in the book, was much tougher. All the students but Mr. Carson walked out.

“The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture,” Mr. Carson wrote. “ ‘A hoax,’ the teacher said. ‘We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.’ ” Mr. Carson wrote that the professor handed him a $10 bill.

No photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson’s years at Yale.

When the dust settles, I suspect that Politico’s tactical retreat is not going to look like a very big deal. We are left with a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination who appears to have concocted multiple elements of his life story and who has made bizarre or offensive (or both) statements about Muslims and the presidency, Jewish victims of the Holocaust and (yes) the pyramids.

The next Republican debate is Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see if Carson is willing to show up and face the music not just from those nasty moderators but from his fellow candidates as well.

*You do know how to access Wall Street Journal articles if you’re a non-subscriber, right? Just search for a phrase from the article in Google, click and you’ve got the whole thing. It’s OK — Rupert knows about it.

2 thoughts on “Ben Carson, Politico and the truth

  1. James Kabala

    I don’t know if I even understand how the story proves that Carson was the most honest student. I can think of several adjectives of varying connotations that could be applied to Carson’s actions: confident (in his own abilities), resilient, independent (from the other students), deferential (toward the teacher), obedient, compliant, fatalistic. But honest? I am not sure how that would apply.

  2. Peter Sullivan

    This seems to me like Politico making a lot out of not very much….. If you make it down to like paragraph 18 in the story, they say that there was a dinner that sounds a lot like the event he describes, and Westmoreland was there and Carson could have been there…… Blah Blah….. The litmus test I used was to search for Hillary Clinton and Ben Carson articles on the Politico site and the headlines pretty much tell you what you need to know… Can’t even imagine what a Donald Trump search would produce….

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