Following the revelation of a series of misstatements and inaccuracies uttered by presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, media outlets have erupted over the merits of such intense scrutiny over the former neurosurgeon’s presidential campaign.
The impetus of this national discussion over whether Carson is being treated unfairly by mainstream media outlets was the publication of an article by Politico, “Exclusive: Carson claimed West Point ‘scholarship’ but never applied,” by Kyle Cheney (11.06.15).
Carson has remained a popular candidate despite new media investigations adding a layer of complexity to a man who has already caused controversy over his comments about homosexuality, evolution denialism and Black Lives Matter.
The article, since edited for accuracy, details how no record exists of Carson applying to West Point and how the veracity of Carson’s supposed meeting with General William Westmoreland over his excellence in his high school’s ROTC program is shaky at best. West Point, whose tuition is free, does not offer scholarships. According to the Politico report, Westmoreland was not in Detroit around Memorial Day of 1969 and no records detail a meeting with Carson.
The only event similar to the one Carson described was in February of 1969, a banquet to celebrate a Medal of Honor recipient. Carson’s account of this meeting was detailed in his autobiography, “Gifted Hands.”
The supposed meeting with General Westmoreland and the subsequent offer from West Point provided a crucial development for Carson’s remarkable personal story, in which he decided to pursue a career in medicine rather than in the military.
Other stories have also thrown Carson’s claims into question. The Wall Street Journal published “Ben Carson’s Past Faces Deeper Questions,” which details additional claims beyond the West Point misstatement. In “Gifted Hands,” Dr. Carson describes a Yale psychology professor who told him and his fellow classmates (Perceptions 301) that their final exam papers were accidentally destroyed, thus requiring every student to take it over again.
As “Gifted Hands” describes, every student except Carson walked out of the new exam, which was supposedly more difficult. “The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture,” the autobiography continues. “‘A hoax,’ the teacher said. ‘We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class,’” (The Wall Street Journal, “Ben Carson’s Past Faces Deeper Questions,” 11.09.2015).
However, as WSJ investigated, there was no evidence of Carson’s photograph ever running in the Yale Daily News or of a psychology course being offered during Carson’s year that went by that title.
(Carson’s campaign eventually fired back with a link to the syllabus of a class called Perceptions, though it was from a 2002 semester.)
At the GOP presidential debate, Dr. Carson was questioned over his involvement with Mannatech Inc. Mannatech is a nutritional supplements company that has come into the national spotlight for false advertising charges.
Carson assured that he had no involvement with the company whatsoever.
However, he “appeared in videos that could until recently be found on Mannatech’s website, including two filmed in 2013 and styled like commercials” and “has given four paid speeches at Mannatech gatherings; the proceeds from three went to a Carson-affiliated charity” (The Wall Street Journal). Such a blatantly fabricated rejection of his association certainly calls Carson’s integrity into question.
Other investigations also called into question claims about Carson’s violent past, his saving of white students from a riot by hiding them in a biology lab and his experience with a robbery in Baltimore.
Carson’s campaign eventually conceded that he misspoke and misremembered his apparent admission and “full scholarship” to West Point. However, Ben Carson’s energy has not been channeled into disproving the investigations into his personal life, but into deriding the media for prying too much.
On Saturday, Carson told CNN, “‘It’s not particularly getting under my skin, obviously it’s helping me. But I simply cannot sit still and watch unfairness. I am always going to call that out when I see it,’” (CNN, “Ben Carson renews attacks on media scrutiny,” 11.08.2015).
Carson’s campaign managers have also spoken out against this “vetting” and believe that such scrutiny will only further establish and solidify Carson’s trustworthiness and character.
This response highlights the out-of-touch aspects of Carson’s campaign, which has chosen to focus on the unfairness of scrutiny rather than holding the candidate culpable for incongruities of personal narrative.
Carson’s reactions to the scrutiny underscore a clear lack of preparation for the amount of attention his words would get if he were elected president.
Though Carson claimed that Barack Obama never received this much attention when he was running for president, NBC News “found a combined 165 New York Times and Washington Post articles that were all (or partially) about Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright between the time Obama first launched his presidential bid (Feb. 2007) and his 2008 victory (Nov. 2008)” (NBC News, “First Read: Welcome to the Big Leagues, Ben Carson,” 11.09.2015).
The attempted deflection of scrutiny as liberal bias in mainstream media does not resonate whatsoever with journalistic trends of election cycles in the past.
Dr. Ben Carson’s misstatements and issues with the truth are not new to the political arena. Most of them were probably well-intentioned, though maybe not deliberately meant to deceive.
Carson’s lies are not what’s overtly significant in this instance. While Politico and The Wall Street Journal’s investigations may indeed end up hurting Carson’s implicit charm as a supposedly soft-spoken, honest professional, the underlying issue with the “controversy” lies in his evasive response to such scrutiny.
Not only does this disrupt the prevailing charm of Carson in conservative minds, but unveils a continuing, complicated relationship between conservative presidential candidates and the truth.
As president (Carson continues to be the GOP frontrunner), he would face even more appraisal of his backstory than ever. Acknowledging such misstatements and inaccuracies instead of blaming the media would have spared him from further probing by news outlets.
Going forward, Dr. Carson must learn to rectify and pointedly recognize his mistakes and move past them, instead of going after the structures that so control the direction of his popularity.