[Updates at the bottom. – J.E.]
If Politico wanted to tarnish its reputation as a media outlet, it couldn’t have planned this better.
Many readers will be familiar by now with the particulars. We’ve had some discussion already here at LU. Tim Brown has a good summary at Freedom Outpost, taking us through the chapter and verse. I’ll limit myself to the important comparison here.
In his 1992 memoir, Gifted Hands, Carson described his encounter as a junior ROTC student, in 1969, with General William Westmoreland, the former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam who at the time was the U.S. Army Chief of Staff. (Westmoreland was Army chief of staff from 1968 to 1972.) Here is Carson’s memory of the event:
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.
Politico challenged Carson on this story because the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), when asked, said that Carson had never applied or been extended an appointment to the academy. Here’s what Carson’s campaign responded with:
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.
Carson’s campaign thus confirmed Carson’s original story. There’s only one honest way to read these two communications.
But Politico devoted an entire article to suggesting that Carson had made claims that he in fact never made. He never said he applied to West Point, or that he was extended an appointment to West Point. Asking West Point about that was an extraneous and unnecessary action (although typical of a candidate vetting process — except when the candidate is Barack Obama). Emphasizing the extraneous and unnecessary portion of the vetting process — i.e., the checking up on something Carson never said he did to begin with — is entirely misleading.
Politico then capped its misuse of media power by putting this incendiary headline on the piece:
Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship
For readers who didn’t quite pick up on the smear from that headline, Politico added this intro:
Carson’s campaign on Friday conceded that a central point in his inspirational personal story did not occur as he previously described.
There are no purposes for which this could accurately be said of Carson’s campaign. Go ahead, parse the story however you want; the bottom line is that neither Carson nor his campaign staff did what Politico said they did.
If you want, we can discuss in the comments how appointments are made to the military academies. We can discuss the fact that every academy appointment is a “scholarship,” in the sense that the appointee doesn’t have to pay money for anything. (The academy appointment is paid back with uniformed service.) We can all exhibit our knowledge of the system and debate whether Carson used exactly the terminology that a West Point cadet or military officer – something Carson never was and never claimed to be – would use in describing his encounter with Westmoreland and the West Point officials.
The bottom line is still that neither Carson nor his staff did what Politico says in so many words that they did. Politico has fabricated a gross misrepresentation.
As Ben Shapiro notes, in fact, Politico did this on the same day the website rushed to report that Hillary’s “key” emails “did not contain highly classified secrets.” With or without the qualifiers “key,” and “highly classified,” and even if we all agree on what to call a “secret,” this is a debatable proposition. But Politico was happy to elide that whole — legitimate –argument, and close the case on Hillary’s emails.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) November 6, 2015
Blithering idiocy on Politico’s part? Or something else? You decide.
I predict that it’s Politico’s reputation that will take a big hit from the hit piece on Carson. And I predict that Ben Carson – whatever other issues you may have with him or his candidacy – will come out of this stronger. (He’s not even my preferred candidate, as it happens. I’m pulling for Cruz at this point.)
Meanwhile, it’s time to end the suspense and award Politico five (count ‘em) of Liberty Unyielding’s dreaded “Obamas.”
*UPDATE*: Via Hot Air, this just in: Alex Pappas notes that Politico has now changed the headline and introduction of the Ben Carson hit piece, eliminating the reference to “fabricating” the story.
Politico’s intro is still incorrect. Carson couldn’t have admitted to the NYT that “he wasn’t offered aid,” in the way Politico implies, because if he was offered assistance with obtaining an appointment to West Point, by people who had the authority to make the offer, he was offered aid by default. An appointment to West Point comes with “aid.” Politico is trying to word this to make their own narrative hang together. It doesn’t.
Thanks to reader “Guest” (first comment in our thread) for the tip on this.
*UPDATE-2*: Ben Carson has been busy with the media over the last 24 hours and appeared on Fox this evening. His campaign organization is described as “unfazed” by the media frenzy over the Politico hit piece. Carson spoke to the New York Times at one point, giving the following statement about the West Point story, which basically reiterates what he and his campaign have already said:
Mr. Carson, in a telephone interview Friday, described his [West Point] offer as less formal.
“I don’t remember all the specific details,” he said. “It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours, we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.’ ”
CNN has come out since with a rather remarkable headline for its latest summary of the controversy: “Where Politico’s Ben Carson ‘scoop’ went wrong“. The intro slug for the CNN piece reads:
What initially looked like a disaster for Ben Carson could now be a major black eye for Politico.
Although CNN, along with many media outlets — including conservative ones — busies itself with explaining how Carson misspoke about the West Point offer he has long described, the real story is what CNN features prominently in its article. “Politico’s scoop went wrong” and “major black eye for Politico” are the things readers will remember.
This is a startling turn-around from this morning, especially with CNN picking it up as a turn-around.
Wayne Dupree notes that Carson turned the tables on the media during an appearance today, asking why they have never given this kind of attention to Obama’s past. Incredibly, reporters actually shouted at Carson during the exchange, clearly unhinged by his refusal to back down. Says Wayne:
Most of you might see this and say yes, “Go Ben Go!” as this will be the most animated you have ever seen him on camera against the media. Some of you might wonder what happened to the mild mannered man who worked out issues with a calm composure. However you see this, just know Carson is angry as hell and he’s not backing down.
I’m not convinced there’s much that can make Ben Carson “angry as hell.” But the MSM may want to think twice about trying to defame him again. They’ve only succeeded in exposing themselves.
Exit questions for tonight: is there any other candidate who could have done this? And do you “get” yet that we’re not living in old-consensus America anymore, and 2016 won’t be a standard, old-consensus election year?