UPDATE: Politico has begun stealth editing the story in question, removing tons of the most incendiary claims without making any public indication that they have corrected the story at all. This is the mark of a junior league, unethical news organization, and stands as conclusive proof that their story is crap and they know it.
I’ve been critical – harshly so – of Ben Carson’s campaign for the Presidency. But bullcrap is bullcrap, and this Politico story purporting to prove that Ben Carson’s campaign admitted to “fabricating” a story about his admission to West Point is absolute bullcrap. It definitely exposes one error on Ben Carson’s point in his retelling of an alleged conversation with General William Westmoreland – but Politico’s errors in its reporting are far more egregious, inexcusable, and intentional than anything they have uncovered with respect to Carson so far.
Add one more data point to the idea that the media shouldn’t be in a position to be the arbiters of fact in this country.
The controversy in question centers around the claim that Ben Carson was offered a “full scholarship” to West Point when he was 17. Politico claims that this is false because West Point has no record of Ben Carson ever applying to West Point, or being accepted; worse, they claim that the campaign admitted fabricating the story.
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.
When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
This kind of story, if true, could prove to be fatal to the Carson campaign. Given the number of questions that have begun swirling lately about Carson’s stories concerning his time as a youth, the fact that the campaign itself admitted that one of the more well known aspects of Carson’s upbringing was a fabrication – that is to say, a deliberately invented falsehood – would probably completely end Carson’s chances at the Presidency.
There’s just one problem with Politico’s story – neither Carson’s book nor Carson’s campaign has ever claimed that he applied to or was accepted to West Point. In fact, they have both consistently said that he did not ever apply to West Point. The relevant passage from his book is abundantly clear that he never had interest in attending West Point and never applied to do so:
Afterward, Sgt. Hunt introduced me to General Westmoreland, and I had dinner with him and the Congressional Medal winners. Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point. I didn’t refuse the scholarship outright but I let them know that a military career wasn’t where I saw myself going. As overjoyed as I felt to be offered such a scholarship, I wasn’t really tempted. The scholarship would have obligated me to spend four years in military service after I finished college, precluding my chances to go on to medical school. I knew my direction – I wanted to be a doctor, and nothing would divert me or stand in the way.
On Twitter, Dave Weigel likewise pointed out that as recently as three months ago, Carson was explicit that he had no intention of actually applying to West Point:
Bill, that is true. I was the highest ROTC member in Detroit and was thrilled to get an offer from West Point. But I knew medicine is what I wanted to do. So I applied to only one school. (it was all the money I had). I applied to Yale and thank God they accepted me. I often wonder what might have happened if they said no.
It’s awfully difficult for the Carson campaign to have admitted to fabricating a story about being accepted to West Point when neither Carson nor the campaign has ever claimed that he was accepted to West Point.
Of course, there is an error in what Carson said, which is that he was offered a full scholarship. We know this because there is no such thing as a full scholarship to go to West Point, because it is free to attend West Point if you are accepted. Room, board, and everything. Now, maybe the idiot who wrote this Politico article has never attempted to remember anything that happened to him 40 years ago, but it’s fairly easy to surmise what happened here. A young Ben Carson met with Westmoreland, they talked about West Point, and Westmoreland (or whoever) told him that if he wanted to come to West Point and he got in, he could get in for free – tuition, room and board!
I don’t know if it was just explained to him at age 17 that everyone who came to West point got that treatment or if his mind just conflated it over time into a “full scholarship” that he specifically got offered, but it seems like a pretty honest mistake, and an easy one for the memory to make over the course of four decades. Clearly, at the time he re-told it to whoever wrote his book, he didn’t actually remember that everyone who goes to West Point goes there for free, or he would never have allowed the claim to be in his book, since it obviously disproves his point. In other words, on its face this was a case of “forgetting” not “fabricating.”
However, at no point did the campaign or Carson ever claim that he was actually accepted into West Point, which is what Politico claims the campaign admitted to fabricating.
Not surprisingly, the Carson campaign is flat out challenging the assertion that they ever conceded to fabricating anything to Politico (and given the fact that they never said the thing in question, it is doubtless true that they never fabricated it). Many people will give the benefit of the doubt to the media over that of a campaign in a situation like this, but given the facts that we have now, Politico is simply not entitled to that benefit.
It may yet be revealed that Carson stretched the truth about this or other stories – about stabbing or almost stabbing a friend, about whether he met Westmoreland or under what circumstances – I do not know. But what I do know is that what Politico has reported thus far is a blatant lie, and has actually done a pretty good job of inoculating Carson against further allegations of this sort via their sloppy reporting.