Why do candidates for office, particularly the nation’s top office, do this? Why do they exaggerate their own personal biographies when they must know that the media and their opponents will be digging for any dirt they can find? It’s nonsensical and it always backfires in a bigger way for the GOP than it does for the Democrat Party.
Well, it’s happened again… kind of. Sadly it’s happened to the one candidate whose entire campaign may well be built upon his reputation for being morally upright and full of integrity.
The media believes that Dr. Ben Carson and his campaign for President have been caught in an old lie (or perhaps – an exaggeration). In Dr. Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands, (which was later made into a film starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Dr. Carson says that he was offered a full scholarship to West Point but that he decided against it because he did not want to be obligated to military service after graduating.
For those looking for ambiguous wording in Gifted Hands on the West Point scholarship, it isn't there pic.twitter.com/erM1sHo283
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) November 6, 2015
On Friday, Politico reported that the Carson campaign admitted that the story was a fabrication and that Dr. Carson had neither been offered a scholarship nor even applied to the school.
The academy has occupied a central place in Carson’s tale for years. According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy.
West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.
“In 1969, those who would have completed the entire process would have received their acceptance letters from the Army Adjutant General,” said Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokeswoman for the academy. She said West Point has no records that indicate Carson even began the application process. “If he chose to pursue (the application process), then we would have records indicating such,” she said.
“Dr. Carson was the top ROTC student in the City of Detroit,” campaign manager Barry Bennett wrote in an email to POLITICO. “In that role he was invited to meet General Westmoreland. He believes it was at a banquet. He can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer.”
“He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors,” Bennett added. “They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission.”
However, I’m not sure I see the “lie” here.
Full disclosure, I like Dr. Carson. So it may just be because I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that what he meant to say was that he was told that his acceptance to West Point was “in the bag” or a “foregone conclusion.” So while the story he relates in Gifted Hands is possibly and exaggeration or a misremembered evening, he never meant to lie about what took place that night.
(In fact, the brilliant Ben Shapiro explains why the Politico story is all wrong, Dr. Carson DID NOT LIE about his West Point story.)
But I’m not the person that Dr. Carson needs to worry about.
This revelation has come out at the very same time that Dr. Carson has been fending off other attacks on his personal story from the mainstream media.
CNN (among others) has been digging into his past and have not been able to confirm some of the stories about Dr. Carson’s youth. Taken on its own, that’s not really a problem because they are mostly just anecdotes about childhood, but coupled with this story about West Point, they present a worrisome scenario to the undecided voter.
The Politico story is a naked attempt to discredit Carson and hurt his campaign. Unfortunately, it looks as if it is working. Over at the Washington Post Dave Weigel pushes back against Politico by pointing out that Dr. Carson had more to say about West Point.
In Gifted Hands, Carson notes that he only had the $ to apply to one school. IE, he never applied to West Point. pic.twitter.com/XWhRThgRzW
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 6, 2015
Carson never claimed to have applied or been accepted to West Point, only that General Westmoreland indicated that he could get a “full scholarship” to the school. (Also, note that there are NO scholarships to West Point, everyone who gets in goes for “free”.) Perhaps, Politico, General Westmoreland indeed knew that Dr. Carson would be accepted to the school based on his grades and his ROTC performance and we trying to convince Carson to apply? Perhaps, Dr. Carson is remembering the story exactly right, and Politico is simply attempting to destroy his presidential campaign?
All in all, the Politico story is disturbing on several levels. First, the reputation of this good man who has done so much good work is going to become clouded by this smear story. Secondly, this will hurt his campaign, because Dr. Carson’s campaign, more than any of the other candidates, is tied to the perception that he is full of integrity and moral character. Third, this could hurt the GOP’s momentum going into 2016. The GOP wants to winnow the field because voters are choosing their candidate, not because some candidates are being forced out due to scandal. Negative publicity is no good during a presidential campaign. As stupid as it may seem, this episode will take some of the heat and pressure off of Hillary Clinton, and that is the last thing we need right now.
I’m sad. I’m sad for Dr. Carson and I am worried about how this could affect our party’s push for the White House in 2016. I hope this all ends well, but I just don’t think the media will have the decency to report on this accurately or fairly, which bad news for Dr. Carson and his campaign.