Editorials

Carson fudges West Point facts

The Observer editorial board

Presidential candidate Ben Carson's campaign has acknowledged that the Republican frontrunner's account of applying and being admitted to the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point is not true, Politico reported.
Presidential candidate Ben Carson's campaign has acknowledged that the Republican frontrunner's account of applying and being admitted to the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point is not true, Politico reported. Getty

So it turns out even an outsider like Ben Carson can master the sly doublespeak of an insider.

It became clear Friday that, even granting him the most charitable interpretation of events, the Republican presidential candidate has been at least fudging the truth on a key component of his life story.

Carson has long said, including in two of his books, that when he was 17, he “was offered a full scholarship” to attend the U.S. Military Academy. Politico reported Friday that Carson never applied, much less was accepted, to West Point. And the academy does not really offer scholarships, in that every student attends the federally funded institution for free.

Carson acknowledged Friday to the New York Times the more nuanced truth: “It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.’ ”

As is so often the case, the dishonesty here doesn’t appear to be an outright fabrication. Rather it seems that Carson embellished a truth – that he had strong reason to believe he could get in to West Point – to make it more impressive.

It seems Politico may have overplayed its hand with the way it presented the story. It said Carson’s campaign “admitted” that part of his life story “was fabricated” and “when presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.”

In fact, Carson’s campaign concedes very little. It says that Carson has never claimed he applied to West Point. He has said he had an encouraging meeting with General William Westmoreland in 1969, and that West Point officers later told him he could get an appointment if he applied, thanks to his grades and his ROTC accomplishments. Politico offered no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Of course, we have concerns about Carson’s presidential timber beyond his exaggerations about West Point. As former (Greensboro) News & Record Editor John Robinson tweeted Friday, “It’s OK to think prison turns a man gay & Obamacare is worse than slavery & evolution isn’t real. Just don’t lie about West Point.”

Carson will surely seek to turn the story into an example of the “liberal media” bashing a Republican. To be sure, Carson was on CNN Friday morning calling one of that network’s stories about him “a bunch of lies” and questioning why reporters would go back and try to verify things from his background. Hours later, Politico broke the story of Carson’s embellishment on West Point.

Bashing the media is popular these days, especially among Republican presidential candidates and governors subject to FBI probes. CNBC threw gas on that smoldering fire with its ill-advised questions at last week’s presidential debate.

For our part, we’ll side with Thomas Jefferson.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government,” he said, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

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