By Nick Tantillo, third-year journalism major
For the first time since his presidential announcement in May 2015, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson is the Republican frontrunner. According to a New York Times/CBS survey published Nov. 3, Carson is the candidate of choice for 26 percent of Republican primary voters. Former front-runner real estate developer Donald Trump, receives support from 22 percent of voters.
The New York Times reports that the difference of percentages between Carson and Trump “lies within the margin of sampling error”— meaning no one can be sure who is leading the pack. Yet, this is beside the point. The survey reveals a clear pref- erence among Republican voters for candidates without prior political experience. To offer contrast, the third most popular candidate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, receives support from 8 percent of voters.
Fortunately for Republicans, most of their candidates are relatively new to politics — the average tenure of candidates in their most recent appointment is roughly four years. Carson, Trump and business- woman Carly Fiorina have no prior political experience. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has only served two years and senators Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich have completed four years. The thinking may be that a long tenure in politics jades a candidate. Not unlike Hilary Clinton.
Carson’s background is his ticket to the White House. Journalists have largely cited Carson’s biography — documented in autobiographical books, and public speeches — to explain his appeal to voters. An email delivered by Carson’s campaign to supporters titled, “I am not a politician,” read “I believe that traditional ‘political experience’ is much less important than faith, honesty, courage, and an unshakable belief in the principles that made America the greatest nation in the world.”
It was precisely Carson’s honesty that was called into question last week. On Thursday, Nov. 5, Scott Glover and Maeve Reston of CNN reported “nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson could not confirm accounts
from his 1990 autobiography ‘Gifted Hands.’” Those accounts detail young, violent Carson who attempted to stab a family member, and punched a classmate in the face with a “hand wrapped around a lock.” Furthermore, on Friday The Wall Street Journal reported that it “couldn’t confirm Carson’s account of protecting white students during a race riot back when he was a high school junior,” or “a story involving a psychology exam while at Yale.” Details of the Yale exam drama — which has received heaps of media attention — can be found in the Mother Jones article, “Ben Carson’s Psychology Test Story Gets Even Weirder.” David Corn’s commentary verges on the ridiculous, but manages to provide a reason- able conclusion to the episode.
Journalists have sampled liberally from Carson’s biography, yet no episode stands out more than Carson and the West Point scholarship.
The story first appeared in the Politico article published on Nov. 6, “Car- son claimed West Point scholarship but never applied.” The basic elements of the story — which appear in Carson’s text, “Gifted hands”— tell of a meeting between a 17-year-old Carson and U.S. General Wil- liam Westmoreland. During their meeting Gen. Westmoreland expressed his interest in Carson, and his desire that Carson should attend West Point Military Academy.
Politico claims that during the meet- ing Carson received an “offer of a ‘full scholarship’ to the military academy,” and points out issues with this offer. For starters, West Point has “no record of Carson applying, much less being extended ad- mission.” An editor’s note that appears at the head of the article reads, “Carson never explicitly wrote that he had applied for admission to West Point, although that was the clear implication of his claim to have received an offer of a ‘full scholarship.’”
Next, the Politico report features this statement by West Point spokeswoman Theresa Binkerhoff: “In 1969, those who would have completed the entire process would have received their acceptance let-
ters from the Army Adjutant General.” However, Binkerhoff says there are no records that indicate Carson even began the application process.
Perhaps the most damaging evidence against Carson’s story is the fact that West Point is a taxpayer-funded academy. Meaning, those who are accepted into the academy are provided with a free education. Under these circumstances there isn’t a need for scholarships. They don’t exist.
The Politico report highlights other cases where Carson cited the scholarship offer. These include excerpts from Carson’s texts, “You Have a Brain” and “Take the Risk,” and an interview in October with Charlie Rose. The intent is likely to corroborate Politico’s claim that this episode isn’t simply an entertaining story, but a pivotal event in Carson’s background that attempts to cast the Commander-in-Chief hopeful as a well-received candidate of the prestigious West Point Military Academy. This is to say, even though Carson has no prior experience in politics, it may be good enough that a military institution like West Point would take an interest in Carson.
Roughly one hour after the Politico report’s initial release, Carson addressed the discrepancy with Steve Eder of The New York Times. “I don’t remember all the specific details,” Carson said. “It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours, we could easily get you a scholar- ship to West Point.’”
Web journalists on both sides of the political isle — Slate and the Conservative Review among others — echo Carson’s take on the report. In all likelihood the Gen. Westmoreland meeting was infor- mal. Maybe the language used was casual and appropriate for a 17-year-old Carson. Maybe, after 50 years of retelling the story, Carson had begun to reference the offer as a scholarship out of convenience. After all, free admission sounds a lot like a scholarship.
To be clear, I am not a fan of Carson. Some of his comments are just bizarre. Like, a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the United States (NBC News, “Ben Car-
son Does Not Believe a Muslim Should Be President”). Or, well, any reference to Nazis for that matter (The Washington Post, “The biggest fan of Nazi metaphors in politics”). Fan or not, Carson’s defense of himself during the scholarship contro- versy is valid.
It appears the issue Politico has taken with Carson is an issue of semantics—and that is a waste of voter’s time. Did Carson receive a “full scholarship,” or just an offer for a “full scholarship?” Did Gen. West- moreland guarantee Carson a scholarship, or did he mention that tuition is free, and Carson interpreted this to be a scholarship? Records at West Point indicate that Carson never applied, but, then again, Carson never claimed he applied to the academy. Does this really matter?
National surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found eight in 10 people see bias in the news. One in two people say journalist reports are inaccurate. Another one in two people say the media is culturally and politically liberal. Maybe Republican candidates are right: the media can be guilty of carrying out an agenda.
Get your affairs in order, Politico. There is already so little trust in the media.
The views expressed in op-eds are solely those of the student who wrote and submitted it. They do not necessarily reflect those of The New Paltz Oracle, its staff members, the campus and university or the Town or Village of New Paltz.