That’s the theme of this morning’s overwrought news coverage on Dr. Ben Carson’s supposed “lie” regarding a “scholarship” to West Point. The story began with Politico, which ran with the audacious headline, “Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship.” Even I was taken in by the headline – after all, that’s a pretty bold claim!
Politico began thusly:
Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The key word here is “fabricated.” Did the Carson campaign admit any such thing? Absolutely not. The facts reported by Politico don’t even support this interpretation of the Carson campaign’s response. According to Politico, Carson said in his 1992 memoir Gifted Hands that he was offered a “full scholarship” to West Point after dining with General William Westmoreland in 1969. Here’s the relevant passage from Carson’s autobiography:
At the end of my twelfth grade I marched at the head of the Memorial Day parade. I felt so proud, my chest bursting with ribbons and braids of every kind. To make it more wonderful, We had important visitors that day. Two soldiers who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor in Viet Nam were present. More exciting to me, General William Westmoreland (very prominent in the Viet Nam war) attended with an impressive entourage. 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.
That’s the entire relevant portion of Carson’s account. He reiterated that account last month in an interview with Charlie Rose, when he said, “I was offered a full scholarship at West Point, got to meet General Westmoreland and go to Congressional Medal of Honor dinners. But decided really my pathway would be medicine.”
Politico followed up on this story. They reported one additional piece of information that seems to conflict with Carson’s story: Carson never applied to West Point, and was never extended admission.
But Carson never said he applied. He said he was extended a full scholarship offer. What’s more, West Point doesn’t offer scholarships: all admission is free contingent on serving in the military afterwards. It thus seems probable that Westmoreland or another military figure tried to recruit Carson, telling him that he wouldn’t have to pay for his education – and that Carson read that as a “full scholarship,” and never applied.
In fact, that’s exactly what Carson’s campaign manager said to Politico in an email:
Dr. Carson was the top ROTC student in the City of Detroit. 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. 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.
But here’s how Politico editorialized: “When presented with this evidence, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.”
That’s nonsense. They did no such thing. They provided details that corroborated Carson’s story and explained his loose use of the language. If someone told you that you could go to college for free, you might reasonably conclude that you had been offered a full scholarship to attend that university. But Politico would call you a liar if you used such language to describe the exchange.
Now, some on the right are saying that Carson should be held to a higher standard here than other candidates because he’s running as an “outsider.” But this is a basic case of misinterpreting facts, not an outright lie. Carson served in ROTC. Prominent people wanted him to go to West Point. He wouldn’t have had to pay. He didn’t apply because he didn’t want to go. Those facts are not in dispute. It’s the specific wording over which media have decided to crucify him.
This is a textbook example of a left-wing media hit. Politico would never editorialize about any Democrat who issued such a response to a factual inquiry in this manner. Politico won’t even conclude that Hillary Clinton lied about her attribution of the Benghazi attacks to a YouTube video despite email evidence that she knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack entirely unrelated to a YouTube video.
But for Ben Carson, they’ll make an exception.
UPDATE: Dave Weigel of The Washington Post rightly points out this from Carson’s Facebook page circa August:
I was the highest student 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 had they said no.
Weigel also points out that Carson said as much in his book — the same book Politico quoted to pretend that Carson lied:
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
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) November 6, 2015
So Politico lied again — Carson never even claimed to have applied to West Point.
The Carson campaign has denied the Politico headline, of course, because the headline is factually untrue. They told The Daily Caller, “The Politico story is an outright Lie….The campaign never ‘admitted to anything.’ This is what we have come to expect from Politico.”
UPDATE II: In a lame attempt to walk back their story but maintain the hit on Carson, Politico just tweeted this revised headline:
— POLITICO (@politico) November 6, 2015
Pathetic. Armstrong Williams, a close associate of Carson’s, told Weigel, “In the story itself, the campaign does not say Dr. Carson applied to West Point. Dr. Carson boasts about his scores in ROTC. Westmoreland encourages him to apply. As Dr. Carson says, they were impressed by his scores, but he never applied. They said to him, we could get you in. This guy got into Yale — obviously he could have got in. The headline was a fabrication.”
UPDATE III: Carson has now spoken about the Politico hit job to The New York Times:
I don’t remember all the specific details. Because I had done so extraordinarily well you know I was told that someone like me – they could get a scholarship to West Point. But I made it clear I was going to pursue a career in medicine. It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.’
Oh, and by the way, West Point apparently uses the words “full scholarship” in describing its tuition policies in its marketing materials: