Ben Carson made his mark with white evangelicals with his 1990 memoir, Gifted Hands, and they are now the core of his supporting in the Republican presidential primary. But now that the media is picking the book apart, and finding seeming fabrications, will the hero for evangelicals fall from grace?
This morning, Politico reported that Carson’s anecdote about being offered a scholarship to West Point has some serious holes:
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.
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When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
This comes on the heels of CNN’s report earlier this week, calling into question another seminal story in Gifted Hands: that as a teenager with a ferocious temper, Carson tried to stab a friend. The questions around the stabbing story, and Carson’s campaign’s effort to question CNN’s reporting, led New York magazine to run with the headline: “Ben Carson Defends Himself Against Allegations That He Never Attempted to Murder a Child:”
Carson went on Fox News’s The Kelly File last night to respond, telling Megyn Kelly that the idea that he could have misrepresented his past was absurd and insulting, and that the person he tried to stab was a close relative who did not wish to come forward. In his memoir, the person he stabbed was identified as a friend, not a relative.
“I would say to the people of America: Do you think I’m a pathological liar like CNN does? Or do you think I’m an honest person?” Carson said.
Translation: I’m honest! I really did try to kill my friend. Or relative. Or something.
The West Point story, though, is different. While the story about his temper and violence played well into the redemptive narrative of Gifted Hands, and Carson’s reliance on God to deliver him from his terrible behavior, making up a story about a meeting with an Army general is of a different nature. The nine people CNN spoke to, who didn’t remember a violent Carson or the incident in question, may simply not remember, or have witnessed, Carson’s behavior. But a meeting with a military officer, and an appointment to West Point, are more easily verifiable.
Carson’s campaign, in a statement to Politico, said that Carson “believes” the meeting “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.”
But Politico questions whether the meeting even took place, noting that Army records show “the general did not visit Detroit around Memorial Day in 1969 or have dinner with Carson. In fact, the general’s records suggest he was in Washington that day and played tennis at 6:45 p.m.”
Granted, Carson could have had his dates confused. He wrote the book (with a ghostwriter) in 1990, more than 20 years after the events in question. And he may have confused an offer from the general to recommend him for West Point with a “scholarship.” Maybe. By that time, though, he had gone through college and medical school. He was probably familiar with what being offered a “full scholarship” would look like.
Maybe some of these discrepancies are forgivable for some voters, and maybe others will blame the “liberal” media for trying to bring down the latest frontrunner. But Carson isn’t a candidate who has built his candidacy on his success as a businessman, like Donald Trump, or a policy wonk like Marco Rubio. His entire campaign is built on his biography as a God-fearing, America-loving success story with a calm and soothing demeanor. Now he’s fighting with the press, claiming that he did try to stab a friend (or relative) and confirming doubts about his claimed interactions with a high-ranking military officer and the nation’s most prestigious military academy. That would undermine any presidential candidate’s standing, but especially the standing of one who has nothing to go on but his autobiography.